my coworker stole donations from a gift collection, managing a sick employee, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker kept some of the donations she collected for a gift for our boss

One of my coworkers collected donations for Boss’s Day gifts for our project manager and assistant project manager. But over a month after the holiday, a gift had not been given. The person’s excuse was that she kept forgetting. A lot of people kept asking her about it; I know I asked two times. Still, though, no gifts. We finally told the assistant project manager, and he went up to her and asked about the donations and where the gift was for our project manager was. She made an excuse and said that she decided to save that money for a Christmas gift for them instead. Well, she never informed us of her change in plans. So a week later, she gives our manager a handmade item she bought. This is not what we agreed on.

We don’t know how much she collected for two gifts, but what I gave was way more than the one gift, so basically she kept a lot of money. I know I know we will never trust this person with money again. What should we do or can we do?

You should tell her clearly and firmly — preferably with the rest of the people who donated — that you want an accounting of how the money was spent, including a receipt, and that you want the remainder returned. If it helps to have specific language, I’d start by saying this: “It looks like there must be money left over from the gift purchase — can you show us the receipt for the final cost so we can figure out how to divide up and return the money that was left over?”

And unless she makes this right immediately after that, you should give your boss a heads-up about what happened, because stealing from coworkers is a serious thing.

2. Managing an employee who’s missing a ton of work because of chronic illness

I have an employee who for the last six months has been out sick about 1-2 days a week on average, due to chronic illness. In the last couple of months, his health has deteriorated considerably and he’s had to miss two and a half weeks straight. Now that he’s back, and still in not better health, it looks like it’s back to the pattern of weekly days off. This is affecting performance, and others, including me, have had to shoulder a lot of the burden: missed deadlines, poor quality work, and an overall significant decrease in productivity.

I want to be compassionate but am not sure what the best solution moving forward is. All employees are at will and he’s exhausted all his paid time off. I’ve considered making him part-time to give him the time he needs while freeing up resources to get the work done (full disclosure: he’s communicated in the past that he needs the full-time position because of financial reasons, though obviously cannot do the job). I’m not sure if there are other transition/temporary solutions to a situation like this.

I run a small company of only 12 employees so we are not required to offer FMLA. I’ve considered doing an FMLA-like structure but worry that because of his financial concerns it’ll be more of a burden to administer than a help (especially given that my company is incredibly flexible; he can come in for five hours one day, be available a full day another, or only be able to do one hour of work another). I will consider termination but given that much of this in intertwined with health issues I want to make sure I do the right thing.

All you can really do is figure out the bottom line answer to what you need — which might be having the person in his role reliably at work full-time, or having him go part-time so that you can hire a second part-time person to take up the rest of his duties, or either of those, or some other option altogether.

Once you’re clear on the scenario(s) that would work on your end, sit down with him and tell him that you know he’s been having a rough time of it, that you’ve tried to be as flexible as possible, but that you want to be realistic about what’s going on and what you need on your end. Tell him the scenarios that would work on your end, and ask what makes sense to him. You can be kind and compassionate while still saying, “Ultimately, here’s what I need. Let’s talk about how our needs can line up, or what to do if they can’t.”

3. Should I resign or do I owe my employer a chance to try to keep me?

I put in notice at the end of September that I’d be leaving my job. The job had far more travel than was originally discussed, and my life as a remote worker was very difficult (poor phone connections and a consensus-based workplace culture didn’t mix well, and indecisive bosses, who sometimes gave contradictory guidance, added to the frustration).

Despite the poor fit and my failed attempts to make it work, I pushed through my first year and completed our main annual project, and decided to leave only after that was over. I didn’t want to leave the position in the middle of the project, as I wanted to leave on good terms. I’m uniquely qualified for my position, and so I offered to stick around for a month or two to train a replacement. I gave excessive travel as my main reason for leaving, and did not touch on the workplace culture or communication difficulties (I’ve mentioned those before with poor results).

They didn’t want to see me go and offered to change my position to make it more workable. I told them I didn’t see how my job could work with reduced travel, but I’d hear them out. They said they’d put together a plan soon. That was two months ago. They’ve dragged their feet on the plan. Then about four weeks ago, they said they wanted me to meet with an outside consultant and they’d put me in contact with them. I haven’t heard anything.

I’ve done all that I should do, right? I’ve been trying to do the right thing by them, but now they’re having me set up new projects that I won’t be around to manage. I’ve kept asking about their plan, but haven’t heard anything back. The workload, however, has been light the past month or two and I’ve been using the time to bide my resources towards my life and career after this job. But I’m good now, they haven’t offered me a plan, and I’m ready to move on. Should I just finally put my foot down, give them a last date, and leave?

Yep. You didn’t renew marriage vows with them; you just offered to hear them out, and they haven’t bothered to make that happen. You were entitled to say “no, my decision is final, but thank you” two months ago, and you’re entitled to say it now.

If they act aggrieved that you’re leaving without hearing their proposal, you can just say, “I’ve given it a lot of thought and realized this is the right decision for me.” If you want to be more pointed, you could say, “I hadn’t heard anything concrete in the last two months, and have decided it makes the most sense to move on.”

Read an update to this letter here.

4. When my state’s vocational rehabilitation sucks, where can I go for help?

You’ve written several times about how government agencies give poor job search advice. I have two obvious disabilities that pose serious barriers to employment, so I reached out to my state’s department of vocational rehabilitation for assistance. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the advice I’ve been given is appalling. The career counselor told me to use a functional resume with an objective that lists duties for the job I held previously. She also advised me to show up to companies in person to ask for interviews. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she steered me toward menial jobs even though I have a college degree. The higher-ups wouldn’t assign me a new counselor when I complained, so I decided to run far away.

My question is: Where should I be running? There are resume reviewers/writers and career coaches, but their fees are out of reach for the chronically unemployed. The industry is also entirely unregulated, so I wouldn’t have much recourse if I ended up hiring a fly-by-night company. The other popular suggestion is to tap your network, but one of my disabilities is high-functioning autism. The social difficulties inherent in that condition mean I don’t exactly have a huge network that will charge in to save the day.

It has now been over six months since I last worked. Research conducted during the recession suggests that anyone who has been out of work that long is only marginally employable, and with my poor work history, that goes double for me. Is there a way to extricate myself from this unemployment quagmire?

I actually think you can get the best job search advice these days from blogs like this one — look for advice-givers who have done significant amounts of hiring themselves, and ignore the rest. It’s not as personalized as working with a coach, of course, but with some work you can figure out how to apply posts like this one to your situation, and while it’s a bit more work, I think it’s a better bet that one-on-one time with someone giving you terrible guidance. (I am assuming from the context you gave that you’re looking for resume and interview advice rather than “apply for this specific job” type of advice, but please tell me in the comments if I’m getting that wrong!)

Also, I strongly, strongly urge you to file a complaint about the agency you worked with. Write to your state legislators and let them know what your experience was; this stuff won’t change until people speak up.

What other advice do people have?

5. How do I write goals for next year in my annual review?

I am preparing for my first annual review in my administrative assistant position at a small non-profit. I have only been in this job for seven months, but our organization conducts reviews for all employees just once each year.

As part of my review, I have to complete a self-evaluation form, and I am having some trouble with this. The section where I must describe accomplishments from the past year is easy–I’ve learned a lot very quickly, so I am recapping systems, processes and structures that I feel I’ve mastered. However, I don’t know how to set goals for next year. I’ve received a lot of praise for excelling at this job, and it’s hard for me to come up with ways to improve on tasks I feel I’ve already mastered.

I’m also struggling with this because our director has generously allowed me to take on tasks that are outside the purview of my job description but that are aligned better with my academic background (I have a master’s in a social research field) and still support the goals of our organization; they even sent me on a professional development course to get more training in how to perform these functions. However, I want my self evaluation to reflect the fact that I know what job I was hired to do (be an admin) while also acknowledging that I have an interest in developing my skills in this new area.

How can I write goals that are aligned with my job description, but are still honest about my sense of mastery over my tasks and desire to explore other areas within the organization?

It sounds like you’re thinking of goals as being about your personal mastery of things, but they should be about what you will achieve for the organization, not about what you personally learn. (In fact, you sound like you still have an academic mindset and are thinking about this in that context — but what your job cares about is what you’re accomplishing for them.) So for an admin job, examples might be things like:
* All meeting requests have been scheduled within 48 hours, with a first scheduling attempt being made the day the request is received.
* Locate a new space that fits our needs for expansion and ensure the move goes seamlessly with minimal disruption to staff’s work.
* Manage our finances so that our expenses are aligned with the budget and we know whether or not we’re on track at all times.
* Ensure staff has access to whatever administrative support they need to do their work smoothly on a day-to-day basis.

In other words, if you do an awesome job next year, what will you have achieved by the end of it?

Also, I’d use this focus when you’re doing your self-evaluation for the past year too; focus not on what you mastered but on what you accomplished.

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon the Great and Powerful*

    #2 Since your company is extremely flexible, can this guy work flexible hours from home? I have a chronic illness and am going to the doctor 3-4 times a week right now, and working from home is the only way I make it work. Or maybe you could let him work from home part-time to make up the office hours he misses going to appointments?

    1. lawsuited*

      Whether or not someone is actually able to complete work from home on days when they are too ill to complete work at the office depends vastly on the medical condition (E.g. IBS might make travelling to work difficult but wouldn’t affect ability to sit at a home computer and concentrate, whereas a depressive episode would still make it difficult to work productively from home), and the employer may not want to get into too much detail about the medical condition of her employee.

      1. Jetta*

        If the employer is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (most are), reasonable accommodations are required if they pose no “undue hardship” to the employer. The bar for undue hardship is pretty high, and goes beyond mere inconvenience.

  2. Blurgle*

    #1: Before you go off, keep in mind that (depending on what it is, of course) you might be vastly underestimating the price of that handmade item; it’s a common mistake in these days of cheap mass-produced clothing. Just today some yahoo offered me thirty bucks out of the blue for the shawl I was wearing when a fair price – and a price I could get tomorrow if I chose to – would be in the range of $600.

    (Allow me this rant: the yarn for the shawl cost $100 and it took a good 30 hours to knit, and yet this guy assumed he could pluck it off my back this afternoon for thirty. I don’t know if he thought it took an hour to knit or if he assumed knitters are such pathetic losers that their time has no value, but I’m sure he was convinced good yarn cost $1 a skein. Ha!)

    #4: Have you checked your local public library for up-to-date resume guides?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Honestly, I’d stay away from resume guides in book form; they’re outdated too quickly and often have really questionable advice. Blogs run by people who know what they’re talking are a better bet (and I’d say that even if I didn’t run one).

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Totally agree about résumé books. I used them after graduating from college and got zero bites. When I started following résumé advice from sites like this one, my job search greatly improved.

        1. Green*

          There’s a resume guide that used real full names and hometowns of people from my yearbook, so there’s a totally fake (bad) resume that’s weirdly connected to me and everyone else in my high school class.

      2. M-C*

        Totally agree about the general uselessness of books in this field. Consider the minimum 2-year lead time to print, which is significant here, even when something like a major crash hasn’t intervened. I know we’re not supposed to acknowledge how fashion-oriented and cliche-ridden recruitment is, but… So it’s much better to read what the current trends are, you’ll be much better prepared for what you’re up against.

      3. OP #4*

        Just to be clear, I’ve already revamped my resume based on the advice in this blog. I did get a couple of interviews soon after I was laid off, but now I’m getting nothing. Based on what was asked in those interviews, I think the lack of response is a combination of five things:

        1. My poor work history. I’ve only a worked a year outside the home in the 15 years since I graduated college
        2. The relatively short duration of my last job (the aforementioned one year)
        3. The fact that I’m looking for work that is only partially related to my last job due to the customer service demands of my last job being overwhelming
        4. Related to #3, I’ll need some training to do well at a partially-related job. Companies don’t want to train these days
        5. Also related to #3, I can’t pass for “neurotypical.” I’m obviously socially awkward and always will be. For a job to be a culture fit, people will need to have some tolerance for that.

        All that said, I do have two good references from my last job, one from my direct manager and another from a manager in a department I worked with daily. I just need to get to the point where those references are actually checked.

        1. Biff*

          I think you need to grit your teeth and take a job below your education, unfortunately. If you can stay about 2 years, you can illustrate a knowledge of workplace norms, reliability, etc, etc.

          1. Olive*

            Seconding that – maybe you can find something entry-level and not customer facing (data entry, stockroom, etc.) at a company that has the type of jobs you’d like to move up into? Probably easier to get moved up internally, and companies usually do expect to train for very entry-level jobs.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Yes to data entry, data quality control, etc. I have various diagnoses depending on which doctor you ask (some have said Asperger’s, others nonverbal learning disability) and my job involves a lot of checking data accuracy and very little social interaction. It’s temp, no benefits, and doesn’t pay all that well (though substantially above minimum wage) but it’s something I’m not bad at, especially since I have a very sharp eye for details.

              1. Elizabeth*

                If you’re looking for this check with the temp agencies in your area. But go with a national chain -I tried a smaller one first and they didn’t have the type of jobs I was looking for because the companies with that type of work were going to the bigger ones.

    2. Sourire*

      Regarding handmade gifts – I totally agree in principal (time and materials have their own cost), however I think when you are chipping in for a gift with other people, you generally need to just buy something. That way it has a clearly assigned value that everyone will understand. Also, it’s not really fair for only the money collector to have the option of gifting “time” instead of money.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        It doesn’t sound like the coworker made the gift (the letter says “a handmade item she bought”). It could be that the coworker spent all the money on the handmade item, though it’s still a problem if the people who gave money thought it was going towards one thing (e.g. a gift card) and it went towards something different.

        If the OP thinks it’s worth far less than just her own contribution, though, she might be right that all the money didn’t go to the gift. (For example, if the gift was a set of potholders or a tea cozy, it probably wasn’t a $250 gift.) One way to check would be to look up similar items on Etsy and see what the price range is.

        1. Sourire*

          Yeah, upon re-read I saw that. Originally I must’ve read it as she made the gift (looks like I wasn’t the only one). Again though, I’d still say you need to stick to something that has a pretty clear and tangible value in this case. Handmade stuff probably isn’t the best choice.

        2. Snowglobe*

          The original advice was to ask for a receipt that shows the cost of the gift. So if the handmade item actually was more expensive than OP thinks, the receipt should settle that issue.

          1. fposte*

            It would settle the money issue, but it sounds like the group had decided what could be bought and this wasn’t it, so I’d still be annoyed with the co-worker who decided that other people had to fund her shopping tastes without their consent.

            1. Observer*

              I’d still be annoyed, but it’s a much less serious situation. And, it’s one that I wouldn’t bring to the boss.

              1. fposte*

                Oh, yes, that’s a good differentiation. An argument about Jane’s birthday present isn’t something I want to hear about from my staff, whereas a theft issue I definitely would.

    3. Evie*

      Blurgle – I’m not a thoroughly crafty person like you, but a friend is, and a aquaintence commented on a piece of work she’d done – “you could sell those on etsy!” And my friend took the conpliment then explained why that wouldn’t be happening – the cost and time and effort would be more than most people will pay for such work. So it’s work doing for yourself/ a gift, but people often find it over priced.

      (Come to think of it the over pricing of items was a common complaint for the craft stall of a school I used to work at which used hand dyed real wool in their hand made knitted/crocheted/ felted items)

      1. the gold digger*

        I used to knit and made a few sweaters for friends. There were a few people who wanted me to sell them a sweater and I told them no – that the price I would have to charge would be so high that they wouldn’t want to pay it.* I would do it only as a gift.

        * Even at minimum wage. And knitting is harder than serving fries at McDonald’s.

        1. LawBee*

          Agree on the cost – people who get handknits as gifts (IF THEY WANT THEM) should know that it’s an investment. (If they don’t want them, and have gifts foisted upon them anyway, well, that’s the crafter’s fault.)
          As for it being harder than serving fries at McDonald’s, I don’t know. Five-year-olds can knit and purl, and they don’t have to do it with horrible customers screaming at them, boiling oil, dealing with money, and management. Knitting relaxes me, but I’d be a complete stressball if I had to work at a fast food place.

      2. Artemesia*

        my mother made these really lovely Christmas bell ornaments for the tree; the beads cost about $5 decades ago and when she donated some for a fund raiser one time, the group sold them for $2.50. They took hours to make. I treasure the ones she gave me but people are not willing to pay what they are ‘worth’ when many beautiful machine made things are available for so much less.

    4. Amy*

      The coworker doesn’t get to collect money from others and then pay it to herself for the time she spends on her hobby. At least not unless she got everyone’s permission first to pocket the money in exchange for her time. She could, maybe, justify keeping the costs of the craft supplies. But even still there’s a big difference between “please give me money to buy boss a gift” and “please give me money to pay for making boss a gift.” To collect for the former and do the latter is a dishonest bait-and-switch.

      1. Myrin*

        I am a bit confused by this subthread and feel like I must have misread something – the OP says “she gives our manager a handmade item she bought.” So I was imagining something like a knitted shawl or similar which was probably handmade (although, isn’t that stuff usually made by machines nowadays?) but not by the coworker herself. So I guess underestimating the item’s worth could still be a thing, but several comments talk about the coworker crafting it herself which doesn’t seem to be the case. Am I missing something?

        1. KSM*

          So I was imagining something like a knitted shawl or similar which was probably handmade (although, isn’t that stuff usually made by machines nowadays?)

          I promise you there are thriving marketplaces of truly-handknit pieces you can buy. I just went to a show for people who spin their own yarn from roving, and who weave their own fabric with looms, and who often show their handmade pieces off with prices attached.

          Many countries allow pieces to be called ‘handmade’ if it was made with one person manning the machine under constant supervision, but it’s also generally pretty clear if something was machine-knit or not. Well made machine-knit pieces are simply far more even in the stitching than any but the most skilled knitters could pull off.

          1. Sparky*

            I can believe it. I found this artist at Bored Panda, and I am seriously considering paying about $100 (before shippping, after converting from Euros) for a single cat bed. Because this woman’s felted wool cat beds are also works of art. I would love to have a couple just sitting around. And they’re washable!

            I hope this link is ok, I don’t know her and won’t profit from linking to her site. But the cat beds are just too cute.


            1. M-C*

              These seem like really reasonable prices for handmade felt. Messy, very labor-intensive and skilled work, for those of you who haven’t tried it. Never mind the creativity :-).

              1. Sparky*

                Totally reasonable prices; but I have other cat beds and I don’t need $100 cat beds. Except I might. Well, Christmas is coming, we’ll see.

    5. MK*

      Blurgle, I think there is a difference between what something costs to make and their commercial value. The shawl might have cost 600$ in terms of materials and labor hours, but I don’t know many people who would be willing to pay that kind of money for a shawl, and even then, only if it was the work of a professional artisan known for quality work and original designs. This person was incredibly rude (and downright wierd) to ask to buy something you were wearing, but they were going by the more common understanding of how much such an item costs; and I rather dislike seeing “handmade” used as an argument to expect me to pay many times the going price for something. If making something by hand produces a better result, that’s one thing, but the price then reflects that it’s better than the mass-produced ones, not merely the cost of it.

      As regards the OP, it’s possible the coworker did spent the whole amount on this item and the OP is simply undervaluing the gift. But the procrastinating about the whole situation sounds fishy, and there is the issue that this coworker apparently went against their agreement about the gift. If I give money to my sister to buy our mother, say, furniture as a present for Christmas, and she goes and gets her a designer scarf that costs the same amount, you bet I will complain that my money wasn’t spent like we agreed.

      1. Quirk*

        Loving this exchange. A dissection of the labour theory of value as opposed to the subjective theory of value with application to shawls. We could get an economics thesis out of this…

        1. Three Thousand*

          I tend to go with the concrete valuation method of an item being worth what someone will actually pay for it. I can personally value my time at whatever I like. If I’m a lawyer or a CEO, I can declare that my time is worth $500 per hour. That doesn’t mean anyone else can be expected to pay my opportunity cost.

          1. MK*

            Oh, anyone can put any price they choose on the service they offer or the products they sell; that’s the nature of a free market, I don’t complain about that.

            What I resent is salespeople trying to convince me that something is in fact not too expensive, only because it’s handmade. “It’s handmade, so it’s better than machine-produced ones in X way”, “It’s handmade, because it is impossible for a machine to produce the same result”, “It’s handmade, and so every single product is original and unique”, these are reasonable arguments and I then decide if I can and want to pay three times the price for a better-in-X-way product or uniqueness. But “it’s handmade so you should want it and pay more for it”, when the mass produced ones are the same quality or better?

            1. Three Thousand*

              I was pretty much agreeing with you; sorry that wasn’t clear. If a lawyer takes up knitting in her spare time and includes her cost of labor in a shawl, she might well decide the shawl is worth $15,000 because she spent 30 hours knitting it and she bills $500 per hour at her day job. That doesn’t make the shawl worth $15,000. It’s only worth that when someone lays down that much cash for it.

              1. TL17*

                I’m a really good lawyer, but a terrible knitter. I’m pretty sure nobody would pay any amount of money for the half of a scarf I knitted.

                1. Jaydee*

                  I’m a “free” lawyer and a decent knitter. Since I rarely have the opportunity to figure a market rate for my legal work, I have no real concept what I could reasonably charge for my time. Of course, I’m also terrible at keeping time. So for my knitting I would probably just go with cost of materials and round up to “what I think a person would pay for a handmade one of these.”

              2. Lindsay J*

                I once had a lawyer use the fact that she bills $500 an hour as reason why my company should reimburse her $500 for the time she spent waiting for an attraction that was ultimately cancelled due to weather/attendance.

                (It was a shitty day out, she and her husband and her two children were the only people who had booked to ride our yacht ride. If the boat is not at least 25% full we cancel as we lose money on the operation.)

                Note that she and her family had gone off and played games and ridden other rides during this time so it wasn’t like they had just stood in line, either.

                When I explained that all I could do was a full refund for the tickets and a coupon booklet for the inconvenience she told me she was going to sue me.

                I said something to the extent of, “As a lawyer, you must know that you have no ground to stand on for a lawsuit, here.” She was not impressed.

          2. Sourire*

            “I tend to go with the concrete valuation method of an item being worth what someone will actually pay for it. ”

            This. It’s like those click-bait articles that try to tell you that your childhood toys are now worth a million billion dollars because the author found an ebay listing for that amount. Um no, that’s not how it works. I could list my trash for a million dollars, it doesn’t mean that is the value.

            1. MK*

              I think many people assume (incorrectly) that, if there is a listing of an item being offered at X price, that is an indication of the market value.

              1. Susie*

                This is why when I check the prices for something on eBay I filter by “Completed Listings” so you can get a general idea of what people have been willing to pay for the item. Not what the unrealistic hopefuls have been listing them for.

      2. Persephone Mulberry*

        @MK (since I think this is going to be pushed a bit down from the original comment):

        Ah, but Blurgle didn’t say the the shawl cost $600 in materials and labor, she indicated that $600 is the retail value of her work, based on her comment “and a price I could get tomorrow if I chose to.” I assume from that comment that Burgle has experience selling her work and knows what the market value of it is.

        1. MK*

          Possibly. But I cannot agree that the assumption that the value of a (used) woolen shawl is about 30$ deserves the scorn Blurgle apparently treats it with. Because, yes, most people don’t know the price of wool and many think it’s a pretty cheap material. Nor is knitting universally acknowlegded as a highly paid skill.

          1. Marcela*

            Hmm, I don’t know. I mean, we don’t know the size or wool used to make the shawl Blurgle was wearing, but my experience is that most people, even my clueless about clothes father, know that cashmere or alpaca are expensive, for example. You can also see that wool “expensiveness”. Perhaps they would not know the shawl is worth $600, but they would not pretend it’s worth $30, the price of the lower end of shawls, almost scarves.

            1. MK*

              Sure, but how many people know that something is cashmere just by looking at it? I would maybe be able to tell the quality of the wool if I touched it (I certainly hope this person didn’t just grab Burgle’s shawl), but to look at? And even then I might be able to tell that it was better quality than a knit sold for 20 euros at a large chain store, but I wouldn’t immeddiately think “super expensive”.

              1. M-C*

                I do. I can spot alpaca and real wool from across the room too. But then I had early and extensive training, my parents having met while working in the Paris garment district :-). The drawback of such a skill is that of course I have to make most of my textiles myself to get the quality I’m used to. I sew/knit for beloved friends I know will appreciate it, but I don’t have time enough to sell. However my weaving guild sells very high-priced items in abundance every year, to a faithful following (hundreds lied up at the door before opening).

                I do think people who have the kind of attitude towards handmade items that MK displays deserve to be condemned to wearing Walmart socks for the rest of their lives. One problem though is that it’s impossible to experience the pluses of well-made items for yourself if you’re not willing to try one, or even to educate yourself about what makes a good one.

                1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                  Of course, “it’s impossible to experience the pluses of well-made items for yourself” if you can’t afford to pay more for a shirt than you do for a month’s rent….but who cares about those silly vulgar creatures who have to worry about things like *money*?


                2. MK*

                  I enjoy the pluses of well-made items all the time. I simply don’t equate the money I spent on them or the time someone else spent to make them with quality or the value I will get out of them.

                  Oh, and you know what makes a good one? Something I will feel comfortable wearing, which most of the more expensive handmade clothes aren’t. Something I can get enjoyment out of, not worry all the time that it might get torn or stained and how on earth do you clean it. Something that was made with the wearer in mind, not only to satisfy the creativity of the person who made it.

                  Look, if clothes mean so much to you, I hope you will be very happy with your high-priced handmade items, spending your days making textiles that no one else can get right. But having this snobbish attitude towards people who don’t value the same things you do (or, as Little Teapot commented below, can’t afford them) is exactly the reason I formed my opinion of handmade items. Because a comment like yours makes me wonder if you really do appreciate fine things as opposed to simply reveling in the thought of how sophisticated you are.

              2. Jackie*

                As a comparison, would you decide at a distance that someone’s engagement ring looked like cubic zirconia and offer them $50 for that “used” ring that you’d swear totally looks like the one you saw on sale at Kohls last week?

              3. Back in the saddle*

                Well, one thing is that if the shawl was impressive/unique enough that someone wanted to buy it *right then* then $30 is insulting–even mass produced shawls cost more than that.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Well, also, “handmade” can mean “made by hand in a developing nation by somebody living on starvation wages”, so whoever sourced the item paid the same as what they would have for a machine-made item and then jacked the price up.

      4. Bunny Purler*

        Ah, MK, this is a really interesting topic and one close to my heart! I am a professional textile artist and keep my own sheep for wool. I also work for a small charity doing advocacy work for traditional crafts. Something I find is that my target customers (and please don’t take this as an insult, but you are not one of them, I think!) like to support the intangible things surrounding a piece of craft. Sure, one of my hand spun, hand woven scarves, made from the wool of a rare breed sheep I looked after from birth, may keep you no warmer than one which cost you a few quid/bucks from Peacocks/Walmart, but you aren’t buying it just to keep you warm. Obviously the quality and workmanship of an expensive craft item needs to be excellent. But if you buy from me, you are buying into the story of my life and my craft, my flock and our heritage. I have a right to ask a fair wage for my labours, and I can find customers who will pay those prices.

        Someone wise once said, ‘Every pound you spend is a vote for the sort of world you want to live in.’ The people who buy from me want a world where some sheep are only kept for wool and not meat, and where traditional crafts still have a place. With any clothing, someone always pays the price for it, somewhere along the line. If it’s cheap, disposable fashion, the sweatshop worker pays, and the sheep pay, but the customer does not.

        For some people, the value they place on the maker’s hand and the purchasing of someone’s time and skill will always be worthwhile. Thank goodness, because hay costs a lot and the sheep eat a very great deal of it!

          1. Bunny Purler*

            Thank you Alison! There is a lot of really lovely, thoughtful stuff written about the value of hand crafts – I like Edmund de Waal, the potter, who has some very moving things to say about making.

            I have to say, I am also a fairly hard-nosed business person as well as believing wholeheartedly in the value of craft, and the numbers for my business do all stack up. A study done by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (part of the UK Government) in 2012 estimated that heritage craft businesses turn over £5.5 billion per year – that’s in England alone. It’s 0.3% of the turnover of all businesses operating in England. (The report is here:

            My hard-nosedness does not extend to my sheep, though, who are my pets and colleagues and friends, and are treated like the ovine royalty they are.

        1. MK*

          As I said above, I have absolutely no issue with anyone putting whatever price seems fair to them to the products of their labor. And if they find their target customers and manage to make a bussiness out of it, good for them. What I do resent is the attitude M-C betrayed above, that handmade items are inherently better and people who don’t appreciate them are ignorant, when most of the time they understand the values behind the price, but don’t share them (as is the case with me and your own products), or they simply cannot afford them.

          Also, I find it frustrating that sometimes craftspeople seem to be willfully not-understanding of the fact that they are catering to a limited and elitist audience. Recently I was present when a prospective customer flat-out told a craftsperson that a certain item wasn’t in their budget and said craftsperson went into a rant about how many hours were spent on the work and how difficult it is. I found that an unacceptable response to someone who made the (probably difficult in public) admission that they simply don’t have the money to spare to buy something. It would be good to remember that mass production wasn’t invented to destroy craftsmanship, but to provide the masses with items they previously could not afford. And that, before it was invented, most people didn’t buy the same items handmade, they simply did without them.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Yes, exactly. This attitude is class snobbery and naked unexamined privilege. I appreciate art, but I would never, ever buy anything from a crafter who said something like that in my hearing (and I probably wouldn’t be able to resist a public lecture on economic realities at the craft fair).

          2. Bunny Purler*

            Craft makers can be more than a little evangelical about hand made things, that’s for sure. The conversation you witnessed was just rude, and must have been uncomfortable to see, never mind for the person on the receiving end of the rant.

            There is, of course, a big difference between someone saying that the price is not in their budget, and them saying that they don’t think the work is worth the money being asked. One is a statement of fact, the other is a value judgement. However, both of these can be the opening remarks in an attempt to haggle the price down, and sometimes it’s hard to know what your customer intends. Some people try this peculiarly offensive haggle which is akin to ‘negging’, where they rubbish your skill and workmanship in an attempt to get you to drop the price. I don’t tend to engage with any of that, but some makers get very defensive about it.

            Really, it’s all about selling, which is a skillset that requires quite a high level of interpersonal skill and social calibration (if you are doing it ethically, that is!) It’s not something which comes naturally to many makers, but we can (and should) learn it if we are going to engage with the general public.

          3. LawBee*

            I didn’t get the sense that Blargle was saying that handknits in and of themselves are inherently better – but that her specific shawl, that someone wanted to buy off her back, was worth more than $30. And also that when it comes to handknits, the cost of the materials that go into them is often way out of proportion to what the untrained eye would assume.
            Obviously all handknits aren’t superior. There are examples of terrible handcrafts all over the internet – Regretsy, anyone? But as much as you are chafing, those of us who do produce high-quality handknits are annoyed when they’re dismissed.
            Chillax, MK. :) No one is forcing you to buy them.

    6. ECH*

      @Blurgle: Thank you for your rant! I used to make latchhook rugs and experienced the same thing. One time I donated a couple 20×24-inch rugs to a silent auction and someone bid $2 to make me feel better. I think I’d have felt better if they hadn’t bid at all.

  3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    #1 – Whatever happened, it’s clear that you’ve lost all trust in your co-worker, so I think that Alison’s advice to ask her to clarify things needs to happen either way. Stay calm, explain you are concerned that all of the money given only amounted to one gift and ask what happened; don’t give in to the temptation to spell out what you think happened until you’ve given her a chance to explain.

    #2 – There are all kinds of measures which could help your co-worker, it’s really about what works best for your business: flexible working, working from home, working in the evenings/over weekends to make up hours, part time working, job share are the first few that spring to mind.

    1. Myrin*

      “don’t give in to the temptation to spell out what you think happened until you’ve given her a chance to explain.”
      In the same vein, the proposed language for #1 is very diplomatic and made me wonder – when, if at all, is it okay to use words like “theft” or “stealing” in this situation? Obviously this will only lead to the coworker becoming more defensive if used from the get-go, but you’ll probably reach a point where it becomes obvious whether the actually gifted item really cost that much or the coworker kept the money for herself.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I think you could maybe go to the boss with “some people are concerned about possible theft and would like to see some money returned”, but tbh I don’t think you ever need to directly make the accusation – it ratchets things up another notch, and the implication is fairly clearly spelled out in the facts.

  4. Daisy*

    Even if I was annoyed at the extra work I would be very upset if my employer fired someone for being sick. No matter what you can’t help but think about if that was me? I know it can’t always be avoided but I think there will be a morale hit if that happens.

      1. Ani*

        She’s diplomatic as always, but the advice generally is from the perspective of a manager of course. :)

        1. Koko*

          The advice is usually about how to help the question-writer solve a problem, who in this question was a manager/business owner. When an employee writes in she helps them solve their problems. Her advice to the sick employee would be different than her advice to the sick employee’s manager.

    1. Artemesia*

      How long should a small business carry someone who can’t do the work? This has already gone on for months. For many small business with small margins, this is the difference between being solvent and not.

      1. Jetta*

        Make sure your business is not subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act before taking adverse action against an employee with health challenges, mental or physical.

    2. The Optimizer*

      I am in a similar situation and I fully understand considering letting someone go. I manage a small team in a small company. We’ve had someone out, at first intermittently but now for for three months straight, due to an illness. The owner has been more than generous and paid them their vacation time and then some. We’re told every few weeks that they need to reevaluate and will let us know in two more weeks if/when they can return. That leaves the rest of us (there are three plus me) to take up the slack. I have been doing my job plus that of the person that is out, who was hired just under a year ago to do the job I did before I was promoted, and I moved up someone who was PT to more than FT as well as hiring my husband to do a few hours a week to help out. If it weren’t our slow season, this would not be in any way sustainable. I am working about 6 days a week on average as it is. We’ve been very patient but both the owner and I feel that if they are not able to return to work by the beginning of the year, we are going to have to part ways. We are open to them coming back PT in a reduced role for less pay, but they also have stated that they need FT work. I know for a fact that morale would improve on my team if we were to part ways with this person and move on.

      1. snuck*

        And this is really valid.

        There could well be a morale hit if the ill person is terminated, but there’s already a morale hit brewing as everyone has to cover and pick up the workload.

        Managing the ill person in a fair and open way shows the other employees that they will also be managed fairly in a similar situation, and that they will have options presented… This could well work out to offset any morale hit letting someone go could do.

        Being flexible in the letting go could help – what helps the tax position of that person? What state/government entitlements are there and how can the business support this person getting them? How could those entitlements be used in conjunction with part time work? Could the part time work be more flexible in the hours so the ill person has the option to pick up other work instead? Could the ill person work different tasks in the business so there’s less time crunch on a day to day basis etc.

        But it boils down to… is the ill person worth keeping on, and is it possible. Chronic illness is rarely helped by stress, and rarely clears up quickly.

        1. MsChanandlerBong*

          To answer your question about state/government entitlements, the short answer is that people with chronic illnesses who continue to try to work are s*** out of luck. I’ve been struggling with chronic illness all my life, and there is absolutely no help out there for people who are unfortunate enough to have medical issues and try to continue to support themselves. I am lucky enough to be able to work as a freelance writer, but not everyone has a job they can do from home. Despite the fact that I am struggling financially and am re-using sterile medical supplies because I can’t afford to buy new ones all the time, there is absolutely no help out there.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This. Our system punishes people for trying. Most people I know who are on disability are able to tell me off the top of their heads, how much they can make in one year (to the penny) before their benefits will go away. After watching this for a while, it looks to me that this is what our system creates. We do not encourage independence.

            1. MsChanandlerBong*

              Exactly. I broke down in tears last week because I realized how much better life would be if I just gave up working. I could collect rent assistance, food stamps, and utility assistance, and I’d also qualify for Medicaid. Sure, you can file for disability, but you get very little per month AND you have to limit how much you earn on the side. If you accidentally earn a penny extra, they’ll take away your benefits.

              1. Lily*

                Rent assistance, depending on the state you live in won’t be more than about $190 to $225 for a single person, food stamps for a single person in NY state are $195 but you cannot buy any paper products or hot foods, no vitamins, no toilet paper and good luck getting that from a shelter, the utility assistance is not monthly, it is once a year in the form of Heap maybe $400 but the bills far exceed that, Medicaid, you would need to get a managed care Medicaid because hardly any doctors take straight Medicaid.

                It is not a gravy train or a good life by any means. The workers at the Dept of Social Services treat you like garbage and “lose” your paperwork and get their rocks off being nasty to you and if you get upset with them, the police escort you out. You would still be required to look for work and run all over town going to interview after interview, getting the right clothes, you have to go to a charity,

                there is no free ride, and even if you get on Social Security Disability, for SSI backpay any you earned while waiting for your benefits gets reimbursed to the State for any rental assistance you got while on public assistance (welfare),

                and if you do get Social Security Disability, you will get maybe $900 a month, have to pay $105 for Medicare Part B, $45 for your Medicare Advantage Plan, and then you have a problem to get on SSD to begin with and you have to continue seeing your doctor for treatment and pay $130 a month in copays.

                You will be constantly criticized looked down on for “working the system” and ‘giving up and not trying to work’ and doctors trying to force medication on you, which you do not need or want.

                Working if you can is always better. The assistance you think you can get is most $436 a month in NY State and they tell you to go roger yourself with it, there is no internet, cable or cell phone, you can’t afford a car and you would still be required to look for work and lose your dignity constantly running to Dept of Social Services to produce umpteen documents and “recertify” for benefits.

                Believe me, in this country, there is no safety net. I have dealt with this hell for a few years now and I have a BA and a Professional Certificate.

                1. Windchime*

                  Yep. I have a relative on Social Security Disability and her life is very, very tough. She has a car but often cannot afford gas. She gets about $1100 a month, and her rent is almost half of that (for a crappy apartment with scary neighbors). Yes, she qualifies for rental assistance but there is a 10 year wait (yes, really) for an opening to come up for a qualifying apartment. She has Medicare insurance (the premiums come out of her disability), but still has to pay for the things Medicare does not cover. She often visits the food bank because she makes “too much money” to qualify for food stamps. She has trouble controlling her emotions (cries a lot and is depressed), so she has no friends. She has tried working but because of her diagnosis, she just cannot function as a normal person would in a workplace.

                  This is a system that nobody would “work”. It’s a life of poverty and sadness and doing without. And it makes me sad that this country thinks that people who have to live like this are getting away with something.

            2. Lindsay J*


              I had a woman who worked for me that had epilepsy.

              She would have loved to work more, but could not risk losing her benefits. Health insurance being the big one due to how much she used it, and how having a pre-existing condition would make it very difficult for her to get coverage on her own. (This was pre-Obamacare) Plus she could not risk going off of her benefits as stress had an effect on her condition so there would have been times when she could not physically work a full time job without risking her health.

              It was very frustrating for both of us because I would have loved for her to work more (she was an awesome employee), and she wanted to work more, but she couldn’t.

              She jokingly at one point offered to work under her husband’s social security number to fix the situation.

          2. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Yes. If the government refuses to deal with this problem, employers need to suck it up and deal. People with disabilities need to support themselves too, and have shamefully high rates of poverty and homelessness. I understand it’s hard to deal with an employee who misses a lot of work, but it’s a lot harder to BE that employee.

            1. MsChanandlerBong*

              What really bothers me is that a lot of states also do everything they can to discourage cottage businesses. Someone with a disability may not be able to work in a factory for 8 hours/day, but they might be able to make handmade items and sell them, or do freelance writing, or work as a web designer from home. Unfortunately, some cities require a lot of paperwork and high fees just to set up your business legally. I just moved, and it’s only $35 to register a home-based business in my city, which is amazing. My former city required you to file a DBA *and* advertise it in the paper for a certain amount of time. It cost hundreds of dollars just to place the ad, making it cost-prohibitive for anyone trying to make ends meet.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                …your city requires you to register as a business to be a freelance writer?! (I’m also a freelance writer, though I have a couple of day jobs as well, and I’ve never said boo to my city about it. But then, I haven’t made enough at the biz to even be required to file a 1099.)

      2. OP#2*

        This is exactly my situation. The new year kicks off an extremely busy season and I don’t believe this is sustainable. What I really need is someone full-time who can put in the long hours required of the role. I also need someone who is dependable and reliable.

        Case in point, I received a call from my employee on Friday requesting 4 weeks off for treatment he needs (his chronic illness is not terminal, for those who asked/wondered below). The fact that some of it will be unpaid will free up some funds for contract work so that’s a small relief. It’s not enough though.

        I’m trying to balance compassion with the needs of the company, both financial but also staff morale. I know other employees and contractors we work with are starting to feel resentful and annoyed (respectively). It’s absolutely true that an honest conversation about what I can/cannot work with is in order. A PT role may work, but it may also mean working on transitioning out since what he may need is a less stressful, much more flexible environment.

        1. The Optimizer*

          In my very similar situation, our EE kept giving us notice that she would need 2 more weeks off, then we would receive notice for another two weeks and another – this went on for a few months and as of a couple of weeks ago, the next evaluation date is 1/1. She was paid all of her PTO and the very generous owner of the company even paid her several more weeks in good faith. We have gone above and beyond any legal obligation to her per our attorney. She is now on unpaid leave and has been told that we hope to have her back on 1/1 but we will have to see in what capacity that will be.

          More than likely, it will be part time and for less pay (she was FT and salaried and will likely go PT and hourly) both because we have been forced to rearrange staff to cover for her as well as to cover another EE who basically left at the same time all of this started happening and because a role with less hours and less responsibility will be better for her as stress exacerbates her condition. I should also note that the job is exclusively work from home and although there are deliverables with hard, calendar based deadlines, the hours are very flexible so there really isn’t any more flexibility we can give her that didn’t already exist when she was hired.

          She has been told all along that we will keep our options open for if/when she can return but at the same time we have to move on to make sure we can maintain the business. She has indicated that a reduced role may be preferred so hopefully it works out well for everyone in the end.

          Keep me posted, OP – I’d really like to know how all of this works out for you!

      3. Been There, Done That*

        I once worked with a woman with health issues who often took a week or so of “medical leave” right at deadline time. Work that had piled up on her desk for weeks or even months was pushed to me, even though I had my own assignments to finish for deadline. Once my line supervisor told our manager that was putting a lot on me, and manager replied that I “just had to.” ONE time manager authorized half a Saturday overtime for me to do all the sick woman’s backlog; usually I had to jam it in with my own assignments. I got pretty resentful about having to do somebody else’s job for them when I wasn’t getting any of their pay. Eventually she retired.

      4. Jetta*

        Your micro-company is likely not under the ADA. This employee should be on short-term disability. Disabled folks should aim to work for large companies subject to the ADA that have disability insurance and greater flexibility. You have been humane in your approach to this employee, but he or she cannot reasonably expect much more from you. Can you provide a good reference?

    3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I completely understand your feeling, and I was also hoping the answer would be “you find a way to make this work”, but in a 12 man business that’s going to potentially be incredibly difficult. If the OP can afford to keep this worker on and hire someone part time then that would be ideal, but they may or may not be in a position to do that.

      Having to fire the worker is going to be a morale hit for everybody else, but so is working overtime and suffering from work-related stress due to the additional requirements on them. Ultimately, this person is going to do better if they can find a job in a large company which can accommodate them.

      I wish the answer was as simple as “do what’s best for the employee because he needs compassion”, or that there was a proper support system outside the workplace for employees who are ill, but unfortunately the answer is about how things are, not how they should be.

    4. Mando Diao*

      To be fair, morale is probably already pretty low if one person’s illness has been burdening other people for six months already. You can have all the empathy in the world for the sick person while, at the same time, harboring resentment toward the company for allowing this situation to snowball. Good employees are going to start leaving. You can’t keep paying someone for a job they’re not doing, and I’d be pretty freaking upset if I knew that this sick employee was being paid the same as me despite not working.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        “I’d be pretty freaking upset if I knew that this sick employee was being paid the same as me despite not working.”

        Well, I’d hope that he continued to be paid the same despite his illness. You can’t say to somebody “oh, you have the misfortune to be suffering from a long term illness. Sorry, I’m cutting your pay.”

        1. The Optimizer*

          That’s just not always an option in a very small business when you’ve had to increase hours for others to take up the slack. In my case, we’ve paid this person far above and beyond what is legally required and they are now on unpaid leave. If we continued to pay them this entire time and had to pay others to do the work they can’t do we’d be in serious trouble financially.

          1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

            And in specific business cases I’m not disputing that there comes a time when you have to let the worker go, even if it is crummy that it has to happen, as I’ve said above. But the general attitude of ‘I’m healthy, I get pay, you’re sick, you don’t’ is unhelpful (and unfortunately widespread) and is often what leads to a spiral where people don’t take the time they need to recover, end up making their illness much worse, become chronically ill, cost the business a lot of money, lose their job and possibly their home and put businesses in the situation where they have to fire an otherwise competent worker.

            1. Graciosa*

              I agree that there are problematic employers who don’t offer appropriate sick leave, or create a culture in which employees are expected to show up sick, work from home instead of recovering, or “Power through” their illnesses – but that isn’t the case here.

              This employer has provided very generous amounts of time off to enable the employee to recover – and the other members of his department have been covering for him for an extended period. Even the most generous and kind-hearted co-workers may hit a point at which they feel understandable frustration at shouldering this burden.

              And yes, it would become frustrating to be caught in a situation in which you have been working extended hours *over a long term period* without additional compensation to shore up the performance deficiencies of someone making the same amount of money. The example given here does not seem to have an end in sight – there is nothing to indicate that the sick employee will be restored to health in the foreseeable future.

              This seems to be a very difficult situation, but I think we need to extend some compassion toward not only the person who is ill, but also the other employees who have suffered as well. While they are not direct caregivers, I can understand their suffering something similar to caregiver fatigue – their working lives now revolve around a sick co-worker.

              This is hard, it is not their fault, and they are allowed to resent it a little.

              1. Bend & Snap*

                I worked in a small office (5 people) and my boss was diagnosed with breast cancer. I did her job and mine for months, and phased part of it back to her when she was able to work, and generally covered for her.

                She got a new car from the bosses as an incentive to return. I got absolutely nothing. No acknowledgement, no thanks, certainly no bonus for working around the clock for months and doing two jobs to keep the team running.

                Don’t forget to recognize the employees picking up the slack.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  And that is how the job became your former job?

                  This is a good example of why employers should not volunteer other employees for their own personal mission of saving one employee’s job for them.

        2. Mando Diao*

          The needs of one employee can’t be allowed to outweigh the needs of everyone else in the company. It seems that this one person, through no fault of his own, is causing major problems within his company. I’ve been in situations where a coworker’s life struggles forced me to do more work, which ended up causing me trouble in my own life. I left the company because, while there’s always some give and take, coworker A’s issues should not be allowed to prevent coworker B from attending to her own life issues. The problem is that the coworker is setting off a chain of events that is reaching into everyone else’s personal lives/quality of life. If the answer is, “This is management’s problem to solve”…well, they’re trying to solve it by considering letting the employee go.

        3. hbc*

          How long would you pay the person who cuts your grass if they kept not showing up or only mowing half your lawn? How much would your doctor for a visit they needed to cancel because she was sick? How long would you continue to frequent a store that had long waits at the register because a key employee wasn’t showing up?

          If this person is non-exempt, they’ve been paying them full salary for 60% work or less for months now. That’s a lot of generosity, and while the person who’s ill doesn’t “deserve” to be out of work, the company doesn’t “deserve” to pay indefinitely for less work.

          1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

            Well, on the very broadest of levels, yes, the company does. In systems like I understand the US to be and the UK increasingly is, there is a very weak safety net, which means that even a small period of illness can be financially devastating. Now, if employers did more to stop it from being so devastating in the first place – paid better wages, organised a proper insurance system etc – people wouldn’t have to live in constant dread of breaking a leg one day.

            Not all employers have caused this – not just employers have caused this – but they have a role to play (how often is protective legislation not passed because “small business says no”?) In this case, as I have said clearly above, I agree that OP is being a good employer and is trying to help their worker. But the attitude of “oh they’re sick, stop paying them” is just baffling to me. If I had a seriously ill coworker, yes I might grumble about picking up extra work (and, again as I said above, you do have to think about all employees’ morale) but I wouldn’t begrudge them a pay cheque or be angry that the company was helping to make an awful time for them a bit better (unless it was really blatant, like Bend & Snap above, but that’s a bad boss and hopefully very rare!)

            1. OfficePrincess*

              But at what point does it go from helping to make the situation better for the employee to completely unsustainable for the business? A month? Six months? A year? Indefinitely? OP has been accommodating this employee for 6 months already. There comes a point where the cost of being flexible is too high to justify it and the employer needs to have the difficult conversation that it just isn’t working out anymore. It’s hard to pick out that point from the outside, but is generosity/loyalty to an ill employee worth driving others to leave because their workload became unsustainable or doing away with raises/col adjustments/bonuses in order to keep paying someone who can no longer fully do the job?

              1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

                That wasn’t the argument I was making. I have repeatedly acknowledged that a business will not be able to always employ a person indefinitely because of an illness, and that businesses should be aware of and responsive to any dips in employee morale caused by a person’s absence.

                What I am saying is that the idea of begrudging a fellow worker a pay cheque because they are ill seems wrong to me.

                1. OfficePrincess*

                  But where people are having an issue is that person A gets a full reliable paycheck but isn’t working, while persons B & C are doing person A’s work on top of their own for the same pay that person A is getting. Having a chronic illness sucks, and I’ve left jobs because I physically couldn’t do the work because of it, but there comes a point where you have to have the hard conversation about whether or not it’s working.

                2. Koko*

                  You keep saying “because they’re sick,” but that’s not why they’re not being paid. It’s not “I’m healthy so I get pay and you’re sick so you don’t” or “begrudging pay because they are ill.” You’re not paying them because they’re not working. Being sick may be why they’re not working, but it’s unfair to characterize it like the sickness itself is making them unworthy of pay in the eyes of some cruel person. If the person was sick and working, they’d still get paid.

                  Kind of like saying, “It’s not fair that you won’t let me come on the trip because I have children!” when really the reason you can’t come on the trip is because you have a fever and you’re vomitting everywhere because you caught your kid’s flu. The children might be the reason you got the flu, but the flu is why you can’t come on the trip.

                  I wish that we had more of a safety net in American society because I don’t like the idea of my employer being the person I have to rely on in a crisis, since businesses exist to fulfill a mission and make a profit, not to provide jobs and financial security to their employees. If I have to rely on anyone or anything in a crisis, I want it to be a person or entity whose mission is point-blank to help me, so that there is no conflict of interest.

                3. lawsuited*

                  Fellow workers are not begrudging the worker her paycheque because she is *sick*, they’re begrudging the worker her paycheque because for 6 months she has not done the work she is paid to do.

            2. jhhj*

              No, this is not a responsibility that should be on the employer. Paying some sick leave, yes. (Separate from vacation time.) Keeping someone on and paying them for time worked when they cannot do 100% of their job, yes. Topping up the pay indefinitely, no — the problem is that this is something that we should all pay into as a government program, like employment insurance and parental leave (here in Canada).

              Oh, they’re sick, they should be on [temporary disability] or [other program] and we keep their job for them is the appropriate safety net, not oh they’re sick but the company should continue to pay them 100% until they get better or quit no matter how often they are gone or how little work they are doing.

              1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

                “Oh, they’re sick, they should be on [temporary disability] or [other program] and we keep their job for them is the appropriate safety net, not oh they’re sick but the company should continue to pay them 100% until they get better or quit no matter how often they are gone or how little work they are doing.”

                I don’t know about the US situation, but in the UK the closest system I can think of that we have is Statutory Sick Pay, and that isn’t a huge amount of money. I would love for there to be a proper safety net. But until there is one, I think employers should take some of the burden – but only until there is one. Which for a lot of people there isn’t really right now.

                1. jhhj*

                  I’m not in the US, but in Canada we don’t have great options either. Still, that’s not the fault of any one small company, and although I think they should do what they can, sometimes what they can is offer part time pay/hours, or a promise to rehire when the person can work again.

                2. snuck*

                  In Australia the options aren’t fantastic… I assume we’re talking a long term chronic illness here with relapses and significant medical time out. Maybe uncontrollable IBS/Crohn’s/Lupus/MS etc… that sort of thing which can easily spiral out of control and take a long time to recover, often not to the same point of health as before.

                  In these situations in Australia if people are in small business they often have to eventually move on, lose their jobs. There is no requirement to keep them on, but you cannot discriminate against them – similar to American laws in general ways – you aren’t discriminating against someone for being sick, or making reasonable accommodations… it’s not ‘reasonable’ to have a person part time when it’s a full time role etc.

                  So these people often wind up on social security benefits – which are minimal, a pain in the ass to get, and take a LOT of begging. It’s not easy to get a disability support pension in Australia, and it’s getting harder and harder – our latest PM has declared war on disability payments basically. If you do get them you are going to get a low end chunk of cash to live on, about $900/fortnight which is not enough to rent a nice place in a nice area and still have money for luxuries (hahaha) like internet and cars. You are also eligible for a bunch of extra add ons… rent assistance, if you have kids you would get the payments for them – up to another $1000/ft again etc. You can cobble together a household income of sorts, but it’s not going to pay for holidays to Bali.

                  We have free healthcare, or low cost (esp. compared to America) and people on these pensions would have health care cards making almost all prescriptions $6 each, cheap electricity /other subsidies.

            3. Ann Furthermore*

              I don’t think any reasonable, compassionate person would agree with the “oh, they’re sick, stop paying them” approach. There are definitely employers that are unsympathetic to illness, and don’t offer reasonable sick leave policies, and so on. But that’s not the case here.

              If one of my co-workers got sick and had to take 2 weeks off and ended up being let go, I’d be paranoid every time I sneezed, and would wonder if I was going to be next. But if a co-worker was chronically ill for 6 months, and ended up being let go, I’d recognize it as a crappy situation all the way around.

            4. I'm a Little Teapot*

              +all the yeses. The business community is in large part collectively responsible for the destruction of our social safety net, so I’d argue that yes, they absolutely have a moral obligation to accommodate situations like this. It would be great if there were better external supports for people with chronic illnesses, but unfortunately the guiding principle of American political culture seems to be “I’ve got mine, screw you.”

              (I’ve thought a lot about this issue and wonder if we should implement quotas requiring all employers to hire and retain x% employees with disabilities.)

      2. Pointy Haired Boss*

        If they had spent the last 40 years cutting my lawn, I’d pay them until they died. They gave me their youth and adulthood; they can have their old age on me.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not firing someone for being sick. It’s having a realistic conversation about whether they can still do the job, possibly with some kind of accommodation. But if they can’t, most small businesses really can’t afford to keep someone on the payroll full-time when they’re working part-time. That wouldn’t be firing; it would be recognizing a crappy situation that’s no one’s fault.

      1. Ad Astra*

        This whole post makes me wish there were a better safety net in place. Employment is supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, so of course it makes no sense to keep paying someone who can’t do the work. But it’s tough for anyone with a heart to let a sick employee go, knowing he might have a lot of trouble meeting his medical needs without his salary and health insurance.

        I’m really hoping they can work something out here, and I don’t envy OP’s position one bit.

    6. AcademiaNut*

      I suspect it depends on what the balance is, between accommodating the ill employee, and the stress the increased workload is putting on the other employees, and that’s what the letter writer needs to figure out.

      An employee might be annoyed but compassionate if their workload increased by 5%. If it increased by 30%, with no compensation and no end in sight, it could tip over into looking for a new job. A larger business might be able to absorb an employee’s tasks into the existing workforce without undue hardship, but a small business might not be able to, or might not have the funds to hire an employee to pick up most of the ill employee’s slack (without requiring pay cuts for everyone else).

      Ultimately the LW needs a solution that will work in the long term, unlike a shorter term health or other crises. It sounds like the employee is unlikely to improve from the current status quo. Given the difficulty he is likely to have finding a new job that pays a full time salary for irregular part time work, he’s unlikely to leave this job if he can possibly hang on to it.

    7. BananaPants*

      How long can a small business keep paying someone who isn’t working, though? It’s unfortunate reality that the firm is too small to be required to offer FMLA and the owner shouldn’t be expected to keep a worker on full time salary for only part time productivity. This has already gone on for six months and the employee is chronically ill, so it’s not like this is a short term situation that’s going to improve soon. If he’s missing 1-2 days a week, every week, that means he’s doing 60-80% of his work but getting 100% of the pay – and meanwhile the other employees have to pick up the slack (possibly without any extra compensation for the extra work).

      If the OP can drop this employee to a part time schedule, freeing up some payroll to hire another part time worker to pick up the slack, that would be a workable and compassionate option. Otherwise I think it’s reasonable to be sympathetic and kind but to terminate employment so that the business can move on. It’s a business, not a charity, and they’ve already been a lot more generous to this employee than many businesses would have been.

        1. INFJ*

          You would be correct. FMLA “covers” your job (regardless of pay- that’s for disability to figure out) for 3 months. Employer can decide to keep you even if the FMLA is exhausted (and, on the other side, could fire you even under FMLA because you’re at will, but probably wouldn’t)

          1. Arjay*

            Intermittent FMLA would probably apply in this case (if the employer were large enough), so that’s actually 480 hours in a rolling year. If the employee were missing one or two days a week, FMLA could last for 6 months or more.

    8. INTP*

      I’d be more annoyed if they paid someone a full time salary for part-time work at a company of 12 people. It sounds like she’s open to letting him receive part-time pay for part-time work, which is fair imo. The extra money can hire someone else or go to bonuses for people who have to cover his work. As sucky as it is for people in that situation, there are resources meant for them (like disability), and an employer isn’t required to subsidize indefinitely.

    9. lawsuited*

      If I were another employee at the OP’s business I would expect my manager to come up with some solution though, like moving the employee to part-time and hiring another part-timer, or a work from home arrangement (depending on the medical condition). I f I were the ill employee, I would want my employer to come up with flexible/creative ways to allow me to work around my illness, but I wouldn’t expect to be paid for work I wasn’t able to do due to my illness.

    10. neverjaunty*

      She’s not firing someone for being sick. She’s looking at reducing this person’s hours or perhaps firing them becaus, long term, they can’t do their job.

    11. Ann Furthermore*

      The other side of this argument is that there’s no guarantee (based on what we know from the OP’s letter) that the sick employee isn’t out job hunting on the days that he’s missing work, or maybe has another job. I’m not saying that’s the case here (and in fact it probably isn’t), but I have no doubt that is something that has actually happened at some point.

      This sounds horrible, harsh, cold-hearted, and cynical, I know. And for a long time I would have been appalled by anyone ever thinking such a thing. But then, my husband tried to be that kind, compassionate employer, and was royally screwed over for his efforts. A guy who worked for him injured himself and needed a knee replacement. He was unable to work at all for 3-4 months, as his job required him to be on his feet or walking almost all day. My husband and his boss decided to keep the guy on the payroll while he recovered, because they knew if they let him go and he didn’t have insurance, he would have lost his house and had to file for bankruptcy. So they continued to pay him, even though he wasn’t working at all. For a company with fewer than 10 people, that is a huge expense, and a burden on the business.

      He recovered, got the OK to start working part-time, did that for a couple weeks, and then up and quit. He’d found another job, and it was doing the same type of work for another company — so it’s not like he had to find something else because he needed a less physical job due to his injury. And because of the timing, it was pretty clear that he’d been job searching while he was recuperating — so my husband’s company essentially paid him to job search. Galling, and infuriating.

      Was what he did illegal? No, but it definitely was shady, unethical, and sleazy. This was a guy who worked for my husband for almost 10 years, and they were good enough buddies that we invited him to our wedding. And he still had no problem doing something like to a friend. They saved him from financial ruin, and he pretty much flipped them the bird in return.

      My husband swore after that he’d never go out on a limb for anyone like that ever again. And it’s really unfortunate, because there are plenty of people who would be eternally grateful for such generosity, and would repay that kindness by being the best employee they could be.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I can understand how this would be upsetting from a business owner’s point of view, but changing jobs after an employer has treated you well isn’t something I’d call sleazy. Job searching while recovering from an injury doesn’t sound unethical either. All of this is a normal part of doing business. He didn’t flip anyone the bird; he made the best choice for himself.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          I disagree. Changing jobs after an employer has treated you well isn’t sleazy. Changing jobs after an employer has voluntarily kept you on the payroll for months, when they were not legally obligated to do so, has done so at a significant expense to the business, and did so because they didn’t want you to wind up destitute, is sleazy.

    12. Nerdling*

      The problem is, though, that a small business often can’t support an employee this way – not at full pay, at least – for an extended period the way larger businesses can. There tends to be a lot less budgetary wiggle room. When we had our business, had this happened to us with our employee, after six months, we’d already have been stretched close to breaking because we couldn’t have afforded to hire another person to pick up those extra hours while still paying the sick employee’s full salary. We would have had to transition the sick employee to part-time pay to match those hours, and it is possible that we would have ultimately had to let the employee go just to keep the business afloat. After a while, it can become a legitimate question of “Do we let this person go or do we lose the business and put everyone out of work?”

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        True, and if accommodating an ill employee would tank the business you might have to make that choice – but lots of employers love to poormouth. I’m cynical in sort of the opposite direction from Ann Furthermore above – we see story after story here (and elsewhere) about executives who respond to a bad year by laying people off, cutting pay…and giving themselves bonuses. Or throwing wildly lavish parties. Or who whine about having to pay minimum wage employees overtime and then immediately gush about the fabulous new kitchen they’re putting in their vacation home.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Oh yeah — there are plenty of horrible companies out there that treat their employees abominably. And it’s these types of horror stories that make many of us automatically assume that the employer is in the wrong, and it’s the employee who’s getting screwed over. But there are good companies out there too, who try to treat their people well, and employees that take advantage of that.

    13. Olive*

      Our company just let someone go in a similar situation. His chronic illness had been causing him to miss work/underperform for over a year. Eventually we just didn’t have enough people or hours in the day to get everything done without him. Our boss even took on some of his duties for a while, and we could all see the stress that was causing. But he refused to go on even short-term disability, whether for financial reasons or pride, I don’t know.

      In the end they basically put him on a PIP, said we’ll give you all the flexibility and accommodation you need with regard to hours/working from home/on weekends/physical duties reassigned etc., but you have to be able to complete X work in X time [reasonable amount of work and time]. He couldn’t do it and they had to replace him. As an employee, I saw it as the employer doing everything they could to help him, and that actually made me feel better about how I might be treated by this company if something similar happened to me.

    14. LawBee*

      I think I’d understand, if my own work was being negatively impacted for months. At some point, the business has to operate as a business and be profitable, otherwise EVERYONE loses a job. It sucks sometimes, but it’s not the business’s responsibility to fully support ill workers, however much it may want to.

      I had a similar conversation recently with a coworker who was horrified that a staff member set up a gofundme page for her medical bills. Our insurance is amazing, the firm pays ALL of it, even funding our HSAs, but apparently my coworker thought that the firm should also pick up the $100,000+ in medical bills. No, that’s not how it works. And while I happily donated to the gfm page, I would be pissed as hell if that staff member’s bills were fully covered and the other staff member whose baby was born four months early didn’t get that. And where does it end? Realistically, I think the LW has done all that she can do, and it’s time to look at the reality of the situation from a business standpoint.

  5. voyager1*

    I wasn’t surprised by Allison’s answer, seemed appropriate.

    However I would be curious what this chronic illness is. If it is something like cancer treatments or depression, I would do everything I could to keep the employee. If it is just “don’t fell good my tummy hurts” well… I might not try so hard to keep them.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t think “don’t feel good my tummy hurts” can ever fall into the category of “chronic illness” (which is what the OP specifically states is going on with the employee so we should believe her). I’m very sure there are chronic stomach illnesses but then that would be much more than a simple “tummy hurt”.

      1. De (Germany)*

        Speaking from personal experience, chronic gastritis really sucks. And frequently appears in people with other chronic illnesses because it’s caused by their painkillers.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Yeah, IBS is nasty as well. I mean, at base it is literally “my tummy hurts” but it’s also “somebody is stabbing me with a meat cleaver every three seconds and piercing every organ I have” type pain.

          1. Felix*

            IBS is awful. Particularly when yes, “my tummy hurts,” and You are glued to the toilet indefinitely with stabbing pains…

            For anyone dealing with IBS, I’ve had immense success on the new FODMAPs diet (based on research from Monash University in Australia). This food literally changed my life around within 6 months, like the miracle I’d been wishing for. Used to have massive anxiety and panic attacks about new places and important meetings because symptoms could hit without warning- the FODMAPs plan takes some work, but the freedom I have from anxiety and IBS issues is incredible.

            Happy to share more if anyone wants more info!

            1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

              This really helped me too – if you can cope with the lack of food/taste, then it’s definitely well worth doing. Bizarrely, as someone who doesn’t believe in it, I also tried homeopathy and that was what finally cured me enough to find I could eat most foods again.

              1. Felix*

                Oh you can still have lots of flavour on Fodmaps! I’ve learned so much about herbs and cooking from scratch. Have never made better food, actually. BF agrees and doesn’t need to be on the diet but is mostly anyway!

                Some of my best if you want recipes:
                -dry rubbed pulled pork
                -spiced slow cooked chicken
                – maple/soy glazed salmon
                -baked zucchini chips
                – amazing kale chips
                -Rosemary hasselback potatoes
                – carrot cake cookies ….
                – And more!

                1. Liza*

                  The FODMAPS thing is working well for me too! I was surprised and happy to find out most cheese is safe, so I’ve been eating a lot of rice cakes with melted cheddar cheese. Tasty and filling and not really very nutritionally balanced at all, but at least I’m getting a good amount of fiber. :-)

                2. Kyrielle*

                  Oh man yes! At first I wondered how I’d do it, then I started to find ways. (Mine is complicated by the fact that I’m so lactose-intolerant that dairy is straight up out, even hard cheeses. Ugh. I can have the lactose-free milk, though, so apparently that’s all it is…. And oh yeah, I can’t have tree nuts; I’m sensitive. Thanks, universe….)

                  Garlic-infused olive oil is an awesome thing. And quinoa with a bit of maple syrup makes a surprisingly tasty substitute for oatmeal.

            2. Looby*

              Agree with FODMAPs- it has literally changed my life (IBD/IBS).
              To Liza below if you can find them I love oatcakes with cheese- I find them much more filling than rice cakes or regular crackers- I’ve got many of my co-workers eating them now!

          2. The Other Alice*

            Yeah, as someone who was in the EXACT position as #2’s employee for ‘my tummy hurts + I feel too nauseated to focus’, voyager1’s comment really hurt. I’ve finally been diagnosed with IBS, but for a long time the lack of a formal diagnosis and those symptoms got me dismissed a lot.

            Please don’t try to assess whether a person’s illness is ‘really’ that bad or not. For every person who games the system there are a dozen who don’t seek help they’re entitled to or who are dismissed when they do. Leave assessing the validity of a person’s illness to them and their doctor.

        2. Myrin*

          Ugh, I feel you. I mean, I don’t, since I thankfully don’t have to deal with a chronic illness but I sometimes have (comparably mild) gastrointestinal issues and even that is already a pain. I can’t imagine what it would be like having to deal with this all the time. Really sorry you have to suffer from this. :(

          1. De (Germany)*

            Thanks. The “chronic” was hopefully an exaggeration – been going on for three months, with a few more months of treatment, it could go away. But that#s still half a year or so of pain after eating :/ – and sometimes, I really have to eat ;)

    2. Evie*

      Voyager1- you probably don’t mean to be but your attitude is very reflective of a lot of attitudes towards people with chronic illness – get better or get over it. Our current joke in our friends group is that we’re the “young old ladies” club. Two of my under 30’s friends have different forms of althritis. Another has something like chronic fatigue where she just always feels ill and tiered no matter how well she eats and sleeps. I have some super fun bone issues which will remain stable (hopefully for a while) until they degenerate further and there’s no telling when or how badly, and no treatment.

      All of us can work and we are doing so but it can be difficult when there’s a lot of pain. And – again I don’t think you meant to do this – but having someone outside of this saying “well it’s not cancer (therefore it isn’t serious enough to care about)” is a bit galling.

      1. De (Germany)*

        I was diagnosed with rgeumatoid arthritis at 24. It’s amazing how many people just don’t believe people under 40 or so that they could have a serious illness.

        1. voyager1*

          I agree, hence why I gave two extremes. I think context and what the illness is matters. Chronic illness can mean just about anything.

          1. Myrin*

            But it can’t, can it? That’s what I was trying to say with my first comment. I’m not a medical professional by any means but I think it’s actually pretty clearly defined what does and doesn’t count as a chronic illness. (I guess you can say someone has “chronic headaches” or “a chronic stomach ache” if they suffer from it every other day but I don’t think that consitutes a chronic illness? I always thought “chronic illness” was a category of illnesses that are by definition chronic, like depression.)

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              Any illness that persists, including remissions and representations, is chronic. That’s what chronic means. The intensity of the pain isn’t tied to the chronic nature but the illness itself.

              One can have chronic headaches – a few headaches a month – and function well.

              I have a chronic intractable migraine – essentially, I am always in one of four stages of migraine every single day.

              You could say I have chronic headaches, and you’d be right. My headaches are incredibly intense. But it’s the nature of the illness (migraine vs. unspecified headache) that can drive the pain, not the duration.

              As for duration, chronic pain leads to other issues like depression, muscle atrophy (which means more pain), and sometimes biofeedback adjustment where the body tries to avoid pain and seizes into an unnatural position causing more pain. Even chronic headaches and tummy aches accumulate into a great deal of dysfunction and discomfort.

      2. INTP*

        Yup, and also the idea that if you don’t have a specific diagnosis from a doctor then you aren’t really sick. Unfortunately doctors are pretty crappy at diagnosing illnesses that have disparate, non-specific symptoms or cases that don’t present in the classic way (i.e. I wasn’t allowed a celiac blood test because I’m not underweight). For a lot of things like chronic autoimmune diseases, the majority of patients are sick for years before diagnosis. Someone who is “very tired” or “has a stomach ache” could be seriously ill without knowing how else to describe it.

        1. Observer*

          This kind of thing just blows me away. I get not doing invasive tests, ones requiring radiation or VERY expensive tests without really good reason. But, blood work (even the more expensive types) is generally not THAT expensive, so to refuse it just because someone has ONE non-classic symptom, or is missing ONE classic symptom just seems so utterly stupid to me.

        2. Felix*

          Yeah, I agree INTP. And a lot of chronic illness don’t have a definitive test. I’m thinking things like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, IBS etc., and these are the types of illnesses that historically people (even the medical community) have written off as “in your head.”

      3. L*

        Yeah, I have Ehler’s Danlos and stood up the other day in a meeting and basically fell over because I’d dislocated two ribs just by existing. I’m in my early twenties, fit, and work a very active job and have a super busy schedule, but at least once a month I need a day off to get something shoved back into place. Oh, and the PT and OT and nutritional appointments and regular intensive exercise, etc.

        I’m super sensitive about the “you don’t look sick” and “well it isn’t X disease” comments because I structure my entire life, and my family’s entire life, around this condition. Usually once something pops out in front of the commenter though, it quiets the comments down! Seeing my hip pop out or my foot completely rotate around because a brace loosened tends to shock people into acknowledgement.

    3. MK*

      I am sure there are malingerers who use insignificant ailments as an excuse not to work, but that is a completely different problem than how to deal with a genuinely ill employee.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        And I have found that sometimes when a person with a seemingly mild illness misses tons of work, there’s often something more going on. Most recently, an employee who was missing two days a week (for months on end) due to seasonal allergies turned out to also be dealing with depression. I thought it was odd that she hadn’t even tried seeing a doctor about the allergies, but depression could certainly explain that. This is what EAPs can help with. Has OP considered an EAP referral? We don’t have the money to be a member of the EAP, but they will see my employees when I refer them and then send me a bill for the actual services provided. The EAP has worked some magic on several of my employees over the years. Even in cases where the person ended up leaving, it was a positive exit.

        1. INTP*

          Yeah, I missed a crap ton of work during a period that I believe may have been the onset of celiac (I can’t be tested for it because a doctor told me to go gluten free before testing me). At the time, the only complaint I really had a solid idea of was “sinus issues.” I also went a year without a period, got a stress fracture running very very very low mileage, got my first cavities, and had horrible painful gas during that time, so it’s likely something else was going on, but all I really knew was that something in my nose or sinuses was so swollen that I couldn’t even get neti pot water to drip through. I’m sure sinus congestion sounded like a crappy reason to call out, but I was miserable and didn’t really know what else to call it.

          1. Kyrielle*

            …wait, what? They want to do the gluten-free and then food challenge before the blood test? Because the blood test *isn’t valid if you haven’t been eating gluten*. That’s the best starter test as I understand it, and if you’ve gone gluten-free, then it’s not valid…because it’s looking for antibodies to the gluten, which definitely won’t be there if there’s been no gluten for a while!

    4. fposte*

      Honestly, as a manager there’s not much difference to me between those. The question for me is whether there’s a defined end date or an accommodation I can sustain. If there’s no sustainable accommodation and the employee doesn’t know when they would be coming back to work but it obviously won’t be in the next couple of weeks, I doubt I could afford to keep them in a small business. I know I couldn’t in my small current unit–it would truly break us as a business.

      This is another example of my pet rant topic, the American insistence that your job is responsible for your life in its entirety, so why should the government have to do anything for its citizens?

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        Exactly — I’m as bleeding-heart as they get, but it’s not “cruel” for a business with a small profit margin to say they can’t keep paying someone for no work — it’s an example of why our safety net needs to be funded by -taxes-.

        1. Pointy Haired Boss*

          It shows poor planning. This is exactly the sort of thing that’s covered by a disability premium on your insurance. Blaming a small profit margin seems a bit like the person who refuses to tip when going out to eat “because they just have enough money for the food.”

      2. INTP*

        Totally agree with all but especially the last paragraph, and it also brings up one of my pet peeve American work culture ideas – that a clinical diagnosis from a doctor is the end-all and be-all determinant of how much accommodation you deserve. Particularly in work, but in social settings too (i.e. the “anyone who is gluten free without a confirmed celiac diagnosis is just being a gullible bandwagon-jumping pain in the ass” attitude). Doctors are not the omniscient brilliant diagnosticians some people seem to think and with many chronic illnesses, being sick for years before diagnosis is the rule rather than the exception. Someone that just complains about being tired and achy could have lupus while everyone thinks “Um, we’re all tired and crappy-feeling!” I’ve had a chronic cough for my entire life – my elementary school teachers would imply to my mom I was using it to disrupt the class – and it wasn’t diagnosed as asthma until I was 28. It would be convenient if illnesses always fell into neatly defined diagnoses and doctors were infallible at defining them so we could have an easy way to differentiate who is exaggerating from who is sick, but they don’t and aren’t, so it’s best to just believe people.

        1. Pointy Haired Boss*

          Working in an environment that has become exploitative (on both sides) tends to encourage a “hustle or be hustled” mindset between both employees and employers. Employees are constantly getting stiffed for little things by their employers, and in turn, they retaliate by skimming whatever they can off their employers, which leads to escalation on the employer side, and escalation again on the employee side.

          In that sort of environment, 3rd party paperwork becomes more valuable than gold, because the doc just wants to get paid; their hustle is against the insurance companies, not you.

        2. snuck*

          It took me three years to get a doctor who took my symptoms of nausea seriously and would test me for coeliac (and not bloody pregnancy!).

          It’s just taken me 15mths of extreme symptoms to finally get a doctor to test me for PCOS.

          Docs. They aren’t the be all and end all.

      3. Ad Astra*

        Yeah, the combination of American work culture and an insufficient safety net makes this a really intense choice for the OP when it should be a fairly easy business decision. By default, she may be deciding whether he has the resources for treatment or not, and I doubt that’s something any manager would relish.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          It SHOULD be an easy decision, but…unfortunately, the way our society is set up, her letting him go might end up leading to him becoming homeless or unable to treat his illness, both of which circumstances could be deadly. She *shouldn’t* have to be morally responsible for his fate – but if she fires him and it ruins (or ends) his life, the impact of her action is still dire harm to him.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think that’s putting more on the OP than is warranted or fair. She’s been really generous to this person, going far beyond what’s required, but ultimately she needs to do what’s right for her business and all the rest of her employees too.

          2. fposte*

            Of course, the same could be said for the impact of everybody else’s decision not to give him money. Just because this job was the last place that gave him money before he didn’t get any doesn’t make them eternally responsible and get the rest of us off the hook.

            I mean, when you think about it, it’s pretty weird. It’s not because the job owes the employee for years of service, otherwise it would be the job you spent the most time at; it’s the job you land at when the music stopped and somebody yanked the chair out from under you that we’re considering responsible. That’s not so much about a moral contract as it is a convenient hook to hang it all on.

              1. fposte*

                But why is his welfare his job’s responsibility and not yours?

                I would like a system where our welfare is genuinely considered to be a civic responsibility. In the absence of a civic responsibility, I think we’re playing the musical chairs game, which really isn’t a way to allot moral obligation.

                1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                  I certainly think all of us do have civic responsibility for people in situations like this. In a better world, we would all be responsible. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and OP has far more power to help or hurt this man than anyone else does.

          3. snuck*

            I disagree.

            The OP is NOT responsible for the overall health and welfare of every person they employ. They are not responsible for this person’s finances, for their lack of employment insurance to cover their illness absences, for their ongoing health woes.

            The OP does NOT have a moral responsibility for this person’s fate. They have an ethical (you could substitute moral possibly) responsibility for being fair, unbiased and even considerate with regards to working with the employee. But the OP doesn’t have to bankrupt themselves just to keep someone else employed.

    5. INTP*

      IA that it matters what the illness is, but less from the perspective of they might be faking or staying out more than necessary because their tummy hurts, and more because it affects how much of an investment it is worth to keep them on. If this is something that a person can get under control or recover from and return to full capacity within a few months, that’s different from a degenerative disease or one without effective treatment options. I guess it sounds harsh, but if the guy will never be a solid employee due to an illness that has little chance of subsiding, or if he can be expected to continue to miss large amounts of work for years (i.e., due to chemotherapy), then it’s not a huge loss if you offer him part time work or an FMLA type deal and he doesn’t accept it. If he’s an excellent employee and likely to return to full capacity within a couple of months, it might be worth a few months of full time pay for part time work to avoid losing him.

    6. The Optimizer*

      In the situation at my company, the original issue/complaint was indeed “just” something like “don’t feel good, my X hurts” but X was just a symptom of a much, much more serious issue that is looking more and more like it will be a life changing diagnosis.
      The reality is, the true nature of someone’s illness is not something that should be speculated on nor is it any of your business as a co-worker. Legally, if their doctor says they are unable to work, they can’t work and don’t have anything to prove to anyone else.

    7. Observer*

      As others have said “my tummy hurts” is the technically correct description of a LOT of scenarios that are pretty awful. Some of the are not life threatening, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be debilitating. I’m going to assume that you have never seen someone on the floor doubled over with a “tummy ache”, but I have, and it’s no joke.

      1. voyager1*

        I get your example, but if someone who was feeling that way they would probably get some medical help. You would get something documented. But just because your tummy hurts (okay maybe not the best example I could come up with) isn’t really enough, just like a runny nose. I mean really, how many common colds can one catch?

        1. Observer*

          I suggest you read through the rest of the comments above. Lots of people don’t have something “documented” for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes the doctors just can’t figure out what’s the matter, and sometimes the don’t take is seriously enough. And stomach problems are actually an area with the later is extraordinarily common.

  6. voyager1*

    #5 I have to do the whole goal thing to. It sucks. Luckily for me I am still
    learning a lot, but at last job I knew everything and writing goals as AAM suggests would have been laughed at (though I do like her advice).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Why on earth would it be laughed at write goals that state what you’re striving to accomplish in the next year? That’s usually the whole point of goals.

      1. voyager1*

        Because some jobs have a finite level
        of growth and a finite level for advancement and development.

        Once you top out you top out.

        This was a company that meeting expectations on a review meant you gave 110% usually. One of the reasons I don’t work there anymore there was no way you could distinguish yourself unless you actually were making loans or building a book of business. Us support folks were well just support for the big company machine.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure, but the role still has goals (meaning what success for the role will look like over a particular period of time), and that’s the case regardless of who’s filling it (someone very experienced or someone less so). My whole point is that work goals should be about what the role should achieve, not what you personally intend to learn. (You might also have the latter, of course, but they’d be professional development goals as opposed to goals for the role.)

          1. Spellcaster*

            “How can I write goals that are aligned with my job description, but are still honest about my sense of mastery over my tasks and desire to explore other areas within the organization?”

            OP, almost word for word exactly my situation! Great boss, very supportive, encourages me to broaden out and take on extra projects beyond my job description, etc. For my annual review she helped me a lot with working out what I was supposed to write down and discuss. Never had a review before in previous jobs, so just asked her straight out what sorts of things she expected to see. If you have a good relationship with your boss, just go ahead and ask for a bit of support. For mine it was a case of listing out work-related achievements (e.g. reduced processing time by X hours per week, improved response rate of Y%), linked to how these achievements benefit the organisation, and then some personal/professional achievements (e.g. greater understanding of non-profit governance, developing positive relationships with Trustees). There is a lot of cross over between purely work-related and purely professional/personal. I think if you are thriving, you will naturally be making a huge contribution, and vice versa. Goals were a mixture of work and personal (complete X marketing activities, develop confidence in Y). I think the penny dropped for me when I thought about “big picture” versus “small picture”. Improving processes and the day-to-day is small picture, but it always feeds into the big picture. Showing awareness of the bigger picture is definitely going to get you progressing to a higher level in your career (if that’s what you’re after). Ideally your review will cover small and big picture.

            1. AdAgencyChick*

              Yes, definitely talk to your boss about goals before it comes time to set them down formally.

              I like to initiate this conversation with my direct reports before they write their self evals, so that I have an idea of what they’d like to do next and I can also suggest things to them. If your boss doesn’t do this, but you have a good relationship, I can’t see her not being willing to have that talk with you ahead of the formal review process.

          2. voyager1*

            I agree with what you are saying , but some jobs/employers really don’t see it that way, though they should.

            1. Koko*

              I think it’s kind of strange for a company to care more about their employees’ personal development than whether the employees are doing their job well.

          3. Anita Newname*

            I think the issue is that a lot of people in support roles don’t see “doing their job” as a goal but a baseline expectation. I mean I don’t make a personal goal for myself of “breathe” every day, it just happens.

        2. Apollo Warbucks*

          It was the same when I worked in a support function for a consultancy firm and there was little no value placed on the work we did, despite our experience and qualifications being the same as our client facing colleagues. The business as a whole showed no respect for the work done by the internal finance, HR and marketing departments, we were viewed as nothing more than an overhead.

  7. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    Trying to find a decent job while disabled is appallingly depressing. As #4 found out, there’s a perception that the disabled are only capable of working low-wage and/or simpler jobs. Yes, there are plenty of folks with certain intellectual disabilities that live normal lives working jobs like that. But there are also plenty of people with a variety of disabilities that can do much, much more.

    When the US economy crashed in 2008 I remember reading a “news” story about how the number of applications for SSDI & SSI had increased, due to (they said) able people applying for and getting the simpler jobs that, previously, only the disabled were taking. In addition to perpetuating the myth that the disabled can only do simpler jobs, it still pointed out that when it comes to a candidate who is able vs disabled, in almost every job, usually the able person gets hired. This is sometimes due to the false perception that the disabled will drive up health care costs. (At the time I’d just lost my job for “being too disabled” [not the official reason] and had just applied for SSDI.)

    It’s sad that government agencies perpetuate this stuff, instead of working with companies that recognize that the only abilities that matter are the ones that are directly relevant to the job.

    1. Artemesia*

      The disabled person will drive up health care costs. My husband’s small was paying about 25K a year per family for health insurance because they were small and had two employees with family members or who personally had expensive chronic issues; they were lucky to get health coverage at all and it went up drastically every year. My husband ended up dropping his coverage and going on mine where my large company charged about $100 a month to add him to my policy versus his firm paying $2000 a month. The way we provide health insurance in the US drives up health care costs and creates situations where if you get sick you lose your job and your health care just when you need it. Obamacare has helped this a little; at least you can’t be denied health insurance because of your health situation but it is unaffordable for many.

      1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

        Not all disabilities are “expensive chronic issues.” In fact, I’d say that -most- disabilities are not so.

        Health care is no different for most physically disabled people. Not having a leg, or being blind, doesn’t necessarily mean you suddenly need more medical care in general, unless the care is relate to how the leg or vision was lost.

        Most of the studies that look at how disability affects health care cost are done on people who are already on a government assisted health care plan (ie. Medicare and Medicaid); many of them are also on some kind of program (usually SSI or SSDI) for people already too ill to work. For the disabled people who are otherwise perfectly healthy and in the work force, costs shouldn’t be much higher than the non-disabled.

    2. Pointy Haired Boss*

      If it helps, most “find work” organizations treat everyone that way. Their goal isn’t really to get you back to work so much as it is to get you to come to terms with downward mobility. The reason many people are often unemployed for extended periods isn’t because they aren’t able to be a Walmart greeter or whatever, it’s because their parents had respectable middle-class jobs, and on some level they feel like getting a job flipping burgers for the rest of their lives is failing their family and abandoning their self-respect. As far as the State goes, however, there’s a shortage of minimum wage jobbers, and a bunch of unemployed people. It doesn’t really care if they drop from middle class to working class, so long as nobody riots.

  8. De (Germany)*

    People with chronic illnesses, especially those where you can do some work, but not 8 hours a day, every day, are frequently in a position where they can’t win.

    Don’t work? You’re a leech on society and also lazy, after all, you could work, couldn’t you?

    Work, but have to take a lot of sick time? You’re lazy, costing the business and burdening your coworkers. And are frewuently expected to explain yourself to people who have no business knowing what’s “wrong” with you.

    It’s frustrating.

    1. Evie*

      Plus (and I know there are laws to curb this but they don’t always apply an they don’t always work!) when you do apply for jobs you get to do the toss up of “well if I tell them about any accommodations I need now they may not give me the job, but if I don’t they may not be able to provide those accommodations… And if I can’t do all the aspects of my job (that everyone else on my level does) because of issue I get the options of having people think badly of me for not doing it or telling them more of my business than I want to (or trying to do it and causing myself more issues)”.

      Fun fun fun.

      1. Elfie*

        My husband is disabled, and he also works for a massive international company. He has to take a lot of time off work because although his employer COULD accommodate his needs (think having a disabled toilet within his reach), they refuse to. UK legislation says that employers only have to consider requests. This is to protect small businesses where providing accommodations might cause them to go under. I don’t think under any circumstances was the spirit of the law stating that large, profitable (multi-million pounds profit yearly!) companies only had to CONSIDER accommodations. His HR department does think this.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          That’s appalling, I was under the impression that the law required reasonable accommodations to be made not just considered it’s completely unfair that such a company is allowed to refuse to help their employees.

          1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

            The law DOES require that — in the US and in Canada. The UK is sometimes a bit behind the times in disabilities rights.

      2. Doriana Gray*

        Yeah, I’m in that same boat and it’s definitely uncomfortable. I’m currently job searching with celiac disease (and lactose intolerance) and I haven’t disclosed this even though I absolutely need flex time as an accommodation (I wake up nauseated every day and spend hours in the bathroom each morning causing me not to be able to come in at 8 am on the dot). I know people say the ADA questions aren’t seen by the company’s HR staff, but how do I know that for sure? And I don’t want to take myself out of the running for a position where I’d otherwise excel.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Don’t disclose until you have an offer. At that point, see if you can negotiate the accommodation. Don’t worry about the application’s disability questions at all; they’re not required and that’s not the place to raise it.

          1. Doriana Gray*

            That’s what I thought (to not disclose until an offer’s in hand). Everyone at my current company knows about my stomach issues and accommodates it accordingly, but if I have to leave to find another position, that’s when it could get tricky. I’m glad I listened to my gut (heh) and didn’t disclose, even when asked in an interview Monday about accommodations. Shoot, with the company I work for now, I didn’t disclose until the day before my start date!

  9. Sourire*

    #1 – Ugh, that sucks. We had the same thing happen and it was totally demoralizing. And the person is STILL allowed to be in charge of such things. (I have a pretty dysfunctional workplace for a lot of reasons, but worth it for the work I do)

    We had a coworker (we’ll call her Jane) who was out for a very, very long time for what is turning out to be a terminal illness (she will never be back). She had been with us for over 20 years. After she had been out for quite a while the holidays rolled around and “Witchy” sent around a couple of messages about collecting for some money for Jane and her family for the holidays, as she’d long run out of paid time and was at this point on an unpaid leave of absence. What a wonderful idea! We have a large workplace and a ton was collected. A few months later, a couple coworkers had dropped by Jane’s house for a visit and not thinking anything of it, casually mentioned it. Jane knew nothing about it. My coworkers were mortified. Witchy was confronted and another FEW MONTHS later, the money did finally get sent to Jane. I’m assuming that’s how long it took Witchy to save up that substantial amount. My guess is Witchy’s kid had a very nice Christmas that year at poor Jane (and our) expense.

    Yep, I’m not bitter at all…

    1. Doriana Gray*

      Wow, your workplace is a mess. That person would have been fired immediately where I work (we don’t play around with theft involving money).

  10. Evie*

    (Hopefully this ends up where it’s meant to)

    OP#4- I have no advice but commiseration. I spend some time working with a company like that while I was unemployed for a while and it made me want to bang my head against a wall.

    Have to see case worker or else threats against benefits (which I was luckily eligible to get- I’m not in the US btw). While there I ask for help with interview skills since I had been getting calls based on my resume. “sorry I can’t do that (but I’ll ask for a lot of your personal info for my demographic stats!), but you can to a 3 day work shop”.

    Go to 3 day work shop. 1st day – guy talks about himself so long we run late and spend the rest of the 3 days catching up.

    2nd day- guy gives advice about talking about achievements in measurable terms. Good advice but irrelevant for my industry. Ask how I might do something similar given my work history. “You need to figure it out yourself”
    “But I don’t know how”
    “You’re making excuses! That’s what holding you back!”

    3rd day: interview technique! Finally the thing I had been waiting for! “Some people like to practise/role play common interview scenarios. I don’t like to do that so instead we’ll fill in our work books (which will provide you with no feedback for your answers!!)”

    Yaaassaaaay. *bangs head against wall forEVER*

    I’m actually angry that they got paid for “helping” me. They were useless.

    For me (and I’m not in your boat in those same turbulent seas) getting A job helped. I was lucky to be able to find work in my industry which was very demanding and very low pay but helped me secure a much better position after about a year of hard slog. I’ve also managed to turn some volunteer work into paid work in the past (albeit only one day a week paid work), and then the experience I had in that position helped me expand my options again next time I was job searching.

    I wish you so much luck with your search. It’s tiring and demoralizing but I have faith you’ll find something. And remember even if the first bite you get is a job which sucks a bit or comes with sucky aspects, it can be the first rung in a hopefully ever improving ladder of your blossoming career. (Please excuse the mixed metaphors)

    1. Not Myself Today*

      When I was laid off, unemployment required me to show up at a job placement seminar in order to continue to receive benefits.

      The only positive things I can say about it were that 1) it was only one day, and 2) the government employee who was running this thing had sense enough to realize he was not going to add any value reviewing the resume I had created with the help of the outplacement firm and let me go – after my requisite time sitting in a room and searching the government database of available jobs, none of which were even close to my field.

      It was a total waste of my time, but at least I didn’t have to fight too hard with someone who didn’t realize that.

    2. snuck*

      I’d say to the OP (from one possibly HFA / borderline/not assessed since 1980) to another:

      Find the stuff you are good at, and be really self critical. Apply that to your job roles – if they need the stuff you aren’t good at then recognise that and move on, save your spoons for the jobs you know you would be a better fit for. If you are good at (for example) high detail but not speed then focus on jobs where this is more important – hypothetically you want to wash cars… go to the luxury car dealers and apply there because they will appreciate the quality whereas the budget places want speed. Think of your strengths and weaknesses not just as they relate to the job role, but the workplaces. Seek places that will appreciate you.

      You do have a network. You have the network of all the people you ever connected with… They mightn’t all make a big effort, but a few will surprise you – some people act out of the box when you don’t expect it. I’m not sure if you can ask on LinkedIn for Autism friendly employers, or approach your local Autism support groups for friendship and to hear a little about what’s happening where. There mightn’t be firm job leads there, but there will be information about *which* companies are more open and worth trying.

      If you are stuck in entry level hell where it’s all about who you know and how you connect and how well you get along with the rest of the crew then try to step sideways into a small niche or a small business where your relationships are simpler, less complicated and your hard technical skills will be more valuable. Consider stepping away from your degree for a while and working in a role that lets you use some of the knowledge of it, but work one on one or similar with another person so you can build your resume, and get used to workplace norms, without it being a big swirly storm cloud of people buffeting you around. (For example if you are a Landscape Architect go and get dirty with some landscapers for a while and learn the hands on stuff.)

      Consider talking to an OT or a Speech Therapist. Talk to your local Autism Association and ask for their adult transition programs – even if you’ve already done them is there a referesher you can do…. Ask your state job board to fund this if they can.

      I’m torn between saying “Be honest” with the prospective employer, and saying “don’t tell them, at least not before you get the job” … it really depends on the job and the people. I’d err on the side of caution, and if on your resume you have things like volunteering at camps for kids with Autism (but your degree isn’t in a child special needs type of course) then you can assume people will infer you have Autism in your family… will it matter? I personally wouldn’t want to work somewhere that couldn’t accept me as I am, but I also know that won’t put food on the table and if you can get by without it being known… why create the fuss.

      Good luck!

      1. Spellcaster*

        Recommend Penelope Trunk’s blog for no-nonsense workplace advice (she self-identifies as Aspergers).

        Best lesson I learned is: Work on your weaknesses only to the point where they no longer blind people to your strengths. I learned social skills by literally copying others (words, gestures, tone of voice, body language, timing, non-verbal noises, facial expressions, so exhausting over so many years), trial and error, and letting go of “but they should do X…” or “it shouldn’t be this way…” I have developed a set of increasingly complex “rules” which govern my behaviour in social situations and the workplace, based on trial and error. After a few years they become second nature and suck out much less energy as you don’t have to think every step through each time anymore.

        The social rituals are nonsense to you and I, but to a lot of people they literally need them to feel comfortable. It’s really about giving other people what they expect socially, most of the time, even bare minimum, so you can get in the door. You don’t have to fake it all the time, it sucks up so much energy. Just need to be able to fake it when it’s needed most – first impressions, meetings, etc. Then go home and switch off the fake!

        Practise makes perfect. I hated making “mistakes” and would ruminate for days – bad habit. Just notice it went “wrong”, learn from it, try something different in future, and don’t beat yourself up for not getting it “perfect”. If you watch “normal” people closely enough, you will start to notice that they make “social mistakes / faux pas” ALL THE TIME. They just don’t get so fazed by it.

        I found I was incredibly sensitive to other’s emotions at work, also temperature, background noise, fluorescent lighting etc. Don’t be afraid to try a few workplaces to work out what your non-negotiables are. E.g. I turned down a “perfectly good” job that would have had me sitting in the centre of a huge open plan office – no daylight, no window, argh! Other people won’t be bothered by such details, but I know it would be suicide to even contemplate taking it. Also emotionally flamboyant/domineering/crass colleagues – other people can cope, I physically cannot. It’s like a layer of skin is missing. Ditto background noise, other people’s conversations, …. cannot focus when someone is talking anywhere near me. (again, try watching others much more closely – they get uncomfortable too, about things that don’t bother me at all… fascinating!) Currently work in a room with one other person, big window looking over a park – heaven.

        I learned it’s not the end of the world to admit I cannot do certain things. I had to learn where my boundaries were, which required developing some self-respect, as well as the ability to forgive myself and others when boundaries were crossed. Ten years on and my current friends and colleagues would be shocked to read this post. Likewise people who knew me at school would not believe I’m the same person.

        You absolutely can do this. Good luck.

        1. fposte*

          Though not everybody would characterize Penelope Trunk’s advice as “no nonsense.” She may have some advice that’s particularly useful to people on the spectrum, but some of her material is more polemical than useful. So I’d say read her with thoughtful discrimination.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, I… would not recommend that blog.

            OP, you seem to be doing a thing where you look at generalized information (after six months, it may be harder to find work) and assuming it’s true of you specifically (therefore, my chances of getting a job are minimal). That’s not accurate, and you’re talking yourself into anxiety that way.

  11. Anon for this*

    #4 I know there’s a lot of negative feeling here around college/university career centres, but university’s that offer co-operative eduction programs have really great resources. This is mainly because the objective of these programs is to help students find paid relevant work that goes towards their degree credits. And those departments HAVE to provide relevant resources in order to make this happen.

    I’m in Canada, and this might be the difference, there are very strict regulations around co-op designations (work has to be paid etc.)

    Many of these post secondary institutes post free online resources that you could access without being a student. Waterloo, UVic, and UBC, for instance have really strong reputations in this area and might be a good place to start looking?

    1. HigherEd*

      I work for a private college, and we offer career counseling services to our students and graduates. If you are able to connect with the college you graduated from, they will be more than happy to help you. Our career center helps students write resumes, do mock interviews and help with job search.

      I have a teenager who has Asperger syndrome, and I know how much my son struggles even though he is an “A” student and a talented musician. I act as his mentor to help him deal better with social issues and other situations that come up. It would be good is you can find a friend or a relative who can help you get services you need and/or coach you as you look for a job that fits your education and skills.

    2. Liane*

      I did co-op ed in the late ’80s in the US and if it still exists here, I highly recommend it for college students of all types. So much better than the current unpaid internships.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I did a co-op in 2007-2008 through my private university and the job was unpaid. In fact, most of the co-op positions my school offered for journalism majors were unpaid, so I wouldn’t say that co-ops are always avenues to paid work for students.

        1. Anon for this*

          I agree Doriana Gray, you have to know what accreditation is for the co-op designation for the institution. Any Canadian university that has the CAFCE co-op designation has to provide paid co-op placements (unpaid could get that designation taken away – there are a few exceptions to this, but it’s the general rule). While many post secondary institutions use “co-op” language to describe their internships, you have to know what the accreditation is behind the program you are looking at. In my experience working in this area, the CAFCE accreditation really reflects the quality of the career programming/support and opportunities.

  12. Ruth (UK)*

    3. Leave. Leave. Leave.

    I had a friend who worked in a job where he was meant to be part time due to studying and they scheduled him on way too much, incl days he said he couldn’t do. Finally, he tried to give notice. They promised they would fix the scheduling. They would fix it for one or two weeks and then revert back. When he spoke of leaving they’d do this again. I told him over and over he needed to just leave and not believe them when they said they’d fix it. He stayed there WAY too long. Your place will not come up with amu solution. They’re just hoping you’ll stick around anyway. They have proven now that they don’t care enough to make a change so get out before it drags on like my friend’s situation did. Ps. Good luck

    1. OP #3*

      Thanks for the post. I’m planning to give final notice this Monday. My boss does keep bringing up the fact that I want to leave, but I keep seeing no results, and I don’t see any plan to make it workable. I’ve stayed around waiting holding out hope they might come up with some workable solution, but frankly, I don’t think they can and I don’t think they’ll try. Time to move on to something else, and try to part as best as possible.

  13. Pipette*

    #3 You have done enough and they have shown you exactly how much they are willing to do. Get out with a clean conscience.

    My anecdata: Handed in resignation after months of begging them to do something about my disproportionately huge workload. Boss was surprised and upset and asked if I would stay if he did something about the workload. I said he was welcome to try. Well, at the end of my notice period (four weeks) the only thing he had done was telling a co-worker of mine that he was really sad that I wanted to leave and that he wanted to talk to me again. If he had wanted to talk to me he could have walked over to my desk in 20 seconds or sent me an e-mail, not asked a co-worker to relay his message like if it was primary school or something. I left and never looked back.

    1. OP #3*

      Thanks for the post – I’m beginning to see that from my boss. Lots of words to try to keep me happy, but not much in action. He actually told me he’d contacted an outside consultant and that I should hear from him soon. When I talked to my boss last, he said he hadn’t contacted him yet, but that he could. So frustrating! Time for me to move on to something else.

  14. CM*

    #4: I have a recommendation for another avenue of assistance. Every state has a federally funded Client Assistance Program (CAP), which is usually run through the state-designated Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organization.* The job of the CAP is to assist people with disabilities who are having trouble receiving appropriate, effective services from the state vocational rehabilitation department–exactly what your issue seems to be. The CAP workers are specifically trained to advocate on your behalf with the voc rehab department, often resulting in getting folks drastically better services than they were originally offered. My recommendation is to google “[your state] client assistance program protection and advocacy” and submit an intake.

    *The job of each state’s P&A is to ensure that people with disabilities (including mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities) are receiving the services they’re entitled to receive and that they are not being discriminated against because of their disability. P&As advocate for people in a wide range of areas, including but not limited to: education (often students not receiving the special education services and accommodations that they’re entitled to), community integration for people in institutions, accessibility and employment issues. Worth checking out your state’s P&A if you or another person with disabilities is having an issue.

  15. Sandy*

    I worked in a situation similar to number two a few years ago.

    A colleague of mine kept getting steadily sicker and sicker and sicker, and missed tons of work. Even when she was there, she wasn’t really there. She had a chronic illness and everyone (including her) thought it was attributable to a flare up of her illness. This went on for about four or five months.

    Turns out that at 25, she had a brain tumour. She ultimately had surgery and after a fairly standard recovery period, she came back as good (or better) than before she got sick.

    Honestly? While I was definitely not thrilled about the extra workload, it was (and is) a huge relief to know that her job was not in jeopardy. The thing is, $hit happens. $hit happens to all of us eventually, whether it’s a car accident, a gravely ill family member, a bout of depression, etc.

    On a more existential level, I think the attitudes to this may have changed with the shift away from “jobs for life” with a single company towards at will employment and careers with a variety of employers. It seems to me that if you work in an organization where long tenures are common, it’s easier to feel that what goes around comes around, and you too may one day may “benefit”. Alternatively, if you figure that you’ll be at your organization for three to four years and then move on, you don’t know that it will ever come back around to you.

  16. A Jane*

    #5 I believe that it’s also important that goals that are set follow the SMART formula:

    S = specific – so that you and your bosses knows exactly what you’ll be striving to achieve. So rather than saying “deal with all requests within 48hrs” you’d say “deal with all meeting requests where full information has been provided within 48hrs”.

    M = measurable – that way you can track throughout the year how you are doing and show your results to your boss, and it’s worth agreeing with your boss how these can be tracked and how often they want an update on how you’re doing against each goal.

    A = achievable – no point in setting a goal that you think will be impossible, but it should be a stretch to achieve it, so usually year on year if you have the same goal there’d be a small improvement set depending on realistic expectation of what you can and should be achieving.

    R = relevant – the goal needs to be relevant to you and your role and also to the company’s requirements of you and your role. i.e. no point in setting you a sales goal if you work in a credit control role, for example.

    T = time bound – when will you achieve the goal by or how many of something will you deal with in a specific time? Alison’s example of “All meeting requests have been scheduled within 48 hours, with a first scheduling attempt being made the day the request is received” is a good time-bound goal example.

    I hope this doesn’t sound too complicated. When you get to thinking about goals in this way, they are much easier to review and measure. Note that if you google SMART objectives you might get slightly different words for the different letters, but these are the ones I use from training I had years ago.

    Good luck!

  17. Colin*

    #3. You need to leave. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career is that managers don’t respond to threats, they respond to action. As well, managers will say anything that they need to say in order to survive the current crisis. Where or not they’ll honor it is something that they’ll consider later, so always get any and all promises for change in writing, and physically signed by them, their boss, and someone in HR.

  18. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #4, I do think that you can get a lot of good advice from reading reputable blogs, as Alison says. If you would like another set of eyes on your resume, I would be happy to look at it from a hiring manager’s point of view and give you some feedback/editing help. If you want that kind of help, we can ask Alison to help us exchange email addresses. I am so sorry you are discouraged, and it is so frustrating that your VR office isn’t better than that.

  19. The Expendable Redshirt*

    #4) What functional employment organizations should you be running to?

    Have you thought of support organizations for people with disabilities? (This is the field I work in). My organization (and many others) has an employment team for people with various developmental and/or physical disabilities. They do things like proper resume building and linking people up to specific jobs. Once a job is found, a caseworker can be along side the client while they train at the job. We have a few other companies in my city that offer employment support to high functioning people with a disability. Everybody from city workers, to electricians, hair stylists, to rocket scientists. Their clients don’t need a medium-long term support worker. There are a lot of interesting service providers out there.

    1. Volunteer Advocate*

      I agree with support organizations, but even more specifically, try to find support organizations for people with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. I have high-functioning Asperger’s and have seen some websites that try to help. For example, ASTEP at asperger-employment dot org has some interesting and potentially helpful resources and links.

      With my high-functioning Asperger’s, I was usually able to “fake being normal” long enough to get hired, but then had difficulty keeping the job even after I disclosed my disability (I was diagnosed as an adult). I’m very fortunate that my current supervisor researched how to best use my abilities (e.g., detail-oriented, prefer step-by-step instructions over abstract instructions, etc.) after she learned of my disability.

      Besides entrepreneurship (especially with an internet-based or home-based business), I’d recommend contract work. It’s specific, such as for software developers and other IT professionals, but it helps a lot to get hired (if you have the skills) and to either have your contract renewed or to go on with a contract to another company that needs the same skills after the first contract it up.

      Good luck with your search!

  20. The Other Alice*

    #2: I urge you to bring your employee into the conversation about where their job is going as soon as it’s reasonable to do so. As I said above, I was in this exact position (thankfully in a big company that could afford to sign me off on sick leave when my GP and I felt it would be best, and on a year’s internship where my duties were absorbable) and I can assure you that your employee is thinking about this too. In fact, I’m sure it’s causing them a great deal of worry and stress, both in terms of what it means for them but also probably in terms of what it means for you all as well.

    If part time, perhaps with flexibility in when those hours are worked and whether they can work from home (I did a great deal from my bed, propped up at the one angle where I didn’t feel I would vomit) could work for your company, that would be fabulous. There may be sources of support and information available to you to help you build a plan – try charities working on employment for the disabled perhaps?

    If the worst comes to the worst please try to talk to your employee about the best way to end their time with you. Perhaps they could slowly taper down hours while job seeking, or you could ensure extended insurance coverage to thank them for their time with you?

    Whatever you end up doing try to include your employee as a partner in building the plan. Hopefully then you can find the best solution for all your needs.

  21. Apollo Warbucks*

    #3 Actions speak louder than words, setting aside the fact that employee retention should start before someone has one foot out the door, they haven’t even bothered to have a conversation with you in the last two months. I’d take that as a very strong indication of just how serious they are about keeping you.

  22. Diluted_TortoiseShell*


    This is one of the many, many reasons I hate office gift giving with a vengeance. This year the “whole team” decided to go get a bunch of expensive elaborate gifts for bosses day. I really like my boss, she’s great, but no one said a word edgewise to me and then I was surprised by an email telling me how much I owed.

  23. Person of Interest*

    #4 – I have felt your pain at dealing with an unhelpful/incompetent city employment agency when I was unemployed; attending periodic workshops and checking in with a job counselor was required to collect unemployment benefits. The workshops were boring at best, insulting at worst (and that’s not an elitist “I have a college degree and this is beneath me” statement – anyone no matter what their education/job history would have been insulted by this advice and the delivery of it). To her credit, the counselor told me she couldn’t really do anything for me since my qualifications were higher level than what they typically see.

    As for advice, I’ve seen on this blog the suggestion to utilize job posting boards that are specific to your industry, which has worked well for me. I used Idealist liberally for job searching in the past (for nonprofit sector) and it did get me to a job that I held for 8 years. Cold apps are not as high-return as using your network, but good for at least getting a sense of what is out there, or even spotting a job at a place where you might have a network connection already, which might be less intimidating than reaching out to your network for non-specific job-searching help. Good luck!

    1. Artemesia*

      My impression of training offered by state agencies is that it is almost uniformly terrible. I remember the training I was required to take to be a foster parent — it was laughably useless and to add insult to injury even when we had a foster child in our home the worker managing our ‘case’ could not answer basic important questions for us. e.g. Her Grandmother will be visiting, can we allow her to go with the grandparent or do we need to supervise? (we finally decided to meet at a restaurant where the child could visit her relatives with some privacy but we were nearby). Could they sign off so she could go to girl scout camp with my daughter? (the parent is required to sign liability forms and we were not willing to take on liability ) These are pretty predictable difficult questions and the useless staff simply would not address them. They did want to take the kids clothing allowance and spend all day shopping for her; I had to get pretty aggressive to have that sent to us so we could help the child buy clothing that fit in with the school and our family and that she wanted. (she was 12, of course she wanted some control over her clothes — and we also put a lot of our money into this above the stipend for clothes from the state, but didn’t want to just forego the support she was entitled to.)

  24. VTAdvocate*

    #4- I completely hear and understand you. I also have high functioning autism and for me I am too high functioning to receive “reasonable” help from the local independent organization that deals with my region’s disabilities (aka- I do not want a support aide following my every move and case workers to answer to when I been managing very well on my own for over ten years now) and when I first applied to my state’s vocational rehab I did a lot of research online and read horror stories. Even locally I know individuals who have gotten little help from VocRehab while others have succeeded with the VocRehab (like myself). I also hold a bachelor’s and have some pretty lucrative skills in Data Analysis which, marketed correctly, I am a pretty good asset to certain companies who need a stickler for complete stats and info.

    So I need to say before I suggest things- mileage may vary. The saying is very true- when you meet one person with autism you have met one person with autism.

    1) To echo Allison Green (hope I spelled that right!) I got a lot of help from Allison’s blog when I had to start looking for a job after my first lay off. I basically read every single blog she had on resumes and cover letters and worked on that myself. I also read Allison’s blog when I have a question on socializing at work. Socializing is really difficult for me to navigate also and it takes reading examples and finding somewhat similar situations to know how to handle it. One other book I would suggest is They Don’t Teach Corporate in College I had to read it for senior seminar and after 9 years the copy is still on my bookshelf.

    2) Temp Agencies
    I would ask around to see what temp agencies are hooked up with which type of industries. There are some temp agencies that their main focus is on manual labor. I didn’t hear an answer back from another temp agency. The agency I’m working with now does a lot of contracting with the state government, data companies, tech companies, and bigger businesses in the area. I haven’t landed a full-time permanent job but after proving myself at one company I ended up in a position that I didn’t need to interview for because I had a solid track record of being really good at my job and providing above and beyond. My agency also doesn’t ask any questions about why I am good at what I do.

    I suggest temp also because although I came in with a slightly more polished resume after VocRehab looked at it she also offered some suggestions on how to market me more. They can be really helpful if you have the right contact in the agency.

    3) Look Beyond Traditional
    One of the things I have been reading more and more often now is companies that do hire individuals who have high functioning autism because we do bring a different perspective to the table and different skills sets because of our disability. It’s not horrible skill sets either- it’s the advantages of how we think that make us great in certain areas. My first job was also a work from home job in Corporate. Although sometimes difficult to find I did find it made a huge difference on my ability to handle full-time work.

    4) Independent employment consulting organizations.
    Yes one way to get help is from the state but I do know even in my area there are a few other employment consulting agencies. They offer different things, different connections, and different networks. I know that the Department of Labor (I know… it causes me anxiety attacks whenever I walk in to one of their offices) sometimes has different training from different companies that may result in a job. There are other organizations that also offer on the job training which, although you do have a degree, it’s a step in the door and a way of slowly getting back into the work place. Some of these orgs are trained to work with those with disabilities. Service Corps may also be an option for additional training and employment.

    5) In the mean time….
    I sometimes have periods where I don’t have a steady job. Right now I have a few steady jobs (two) but there may be a lull after the holiday when my contract is up with my present temp job. I am not advertising for Amazon at all but they do have a program called Amazon Mechanical Turk which (although you will not make a scad of money) I used when I needed to feel like I am doing something or some form of work.

  25. Mostly Lurker*

    #4, if you are in the US, I would also suggest looking for a career services provider on the National Career Development Association website; NCDA is the professional association for career services professionals and persons in need of services can search for a credentialed provider nearby.

  26. MInnesota*

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the availability and potential importance of disability insurance. At least in the US long term disability coverage should be strongly considered by anyone who can possibly afford it. FMLA only provides 12 weeks of time off, and it is not necessarily paid. My current large multi-national company has a strong disability benefit (short term and long term), but I still carry my private coverage which I purchased early in my career pre-FMLA and working for a small law firm. My dad, who worked in the insurance industry, shared lots of data about disability rates, etc., and both my spouse and I have always carried coverage as part of our personal safety net. Not arguing that a government safety net isn’t important, but thought my experience might be helpful especially for those in the US.

  27. Former Retail Manager*

    #1….I haven’t seen it mentioned above, but it sounds to me like your employee who may have used the funds improperly might be having substantial financial problems. Without knowing how much the fund collector makes or her financial situation, its hard to say if that’s the driving force, but I can’t imagine that the individual would do it for any other reason.

    While that clearly doesn’t make it acceptable, and she should still repay the difference between what was collected and the price of the gift purchased, you may want to consider that this may have been a last resort for her to cover an unexpected expense and she likely believed she could repay it with her next paycheck without anyone being any the wiser. I feel like this post could be akin to the poster a while back that racked up all the personal charges (around $20k) on the company credit card. Slightly different circumstances, but similar cause. That person was essentially stealing as well by using money that wasn’t theirs to use for charges that weren’t authorized. I also don’t know that talking to the person with the entire group of donors present is the best idea. It would likely make her defensive and caught off guard and much less likely to admit wrongdoing.

    I’d personally send a more compassionate/less emotional donor to talk to her privately with Alison’s suggestion. If the answer and follow up actions are not satisfactory, then perhaps telling her that you’ll be forced to speak to her manager to resolve it would be in order. If it were me, and her response was “off,” I’d bring up financial difficulties and make the inquiry a direct one as in….”What you’re saying doesn’t really add up. Are you having financial difficulties? We’ve all been there and if that’s the case, please let me know. We really just want to resolve the issue at hand. No one is judging you.” (That last part may or may not be true.)

    Sorry this happened to you. It’s just a bad situation for all involved. Best of luck!

    1. Observer*

      There is one thing that your approach doesn’t cover, which is the fact that whatever the reason this woman did it, if she appropriated money that belongs to others, she can’t be trusted. That’s a BIG deal.

    2. neverjaunty*

      It’s awesome that you’re giving the co-worker the benefit of the doubt, but there could be a lot of less pleasant reasons beyond ‘unexpected necessary expense’ that this happened. Some people just have poor impulse control. Some people have a massive sense of entitlement – hey, it’s money, I collected it so I can do what I want with it. Some people have financial difficulties because they like to gamble, or shop, or go to nice restaurants whenever they have ‘extra’ cash. Also, people with financial difficulties don’t universally take money that isn’t theirs.

      And someone who does have financial difficulties for serious reasons may not really want to talk about it with her co-workers – whereas a thief is going to seize on that softball opening to give a sob story about why their behavior is okay. So I don’t think there’s a lot of percentage in that approach.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Totally agree with both of you. The OP may never know the real reason the money was misappropriated, assuming it was. And yes, I’ve dealt with the drama queens/liars who will lie to your face about their “terrible life/situation/etc” that was actually of their own making or nonexistent and this offender may well seize the opportunity to lie should it present itself. I wouldn’t trust the person going forward either….the collection duties would definitely be revoked.

  28. The Hard Thing about Hard Things*


    “I actually think you can get the best job search advice these days from blogs like this one — look for advice-givers who have done significant amounts of hiring themselves, and ignore the rest. It’s not as personalized as working with a coach, of course, but with some work you can figure out how to apply posts like this one to your situation, and while it’s a bit more work, I think it’s a better bet that one-on-one time with someone giving you terrible guidance.”

    There is just one problem with this suggestion: as a person who has mentored many people over the years, and shared AAM links more times than I can count, I’ve learned that most people tend to be good at understanding good advice, but terrible at applying it to their own situation, because it’s hard for them to keep an objective stance. So, OP#4 (and anyone who has been struggling with getting an interview and don’t have a person to turn to for resume and cover letter feedback):

    I’m offering to review your application materials. How can you tell whether my advice is any good? Easy – just compare what I recommend to what you read in AAM (I’ll be quoting her in my feedback anyway), to see if it matches. Also, you are welcome to post excerpts of my recommendations to future Friday threads for public confirmation. What will be different is that instead of generic descriptions of what to do, you’ll get from me very specific advice on how to improve your application materials. Obviously I will not have all the details of your work experience, so you’ll probably have to tweak some of my examples to fit your reality, but because the examples will be 100% pertinent to your background, it will make your revision process much easier and more effective.

    Why I’m doing this? I’ve developed a very successful career in the U.S., having hired and fired people in the process, and consider this type of activity giving back to the community.

    If you want to try this avenue, write to cmonerat [at] mail [dot] com and I promise to get back to you quickly with some solid recommendations entirely aligned with AAM’s guidelines.

  29. MillersSpring*

    #4: Contact former professors for introductions, resume review and/or job leads. Reach out via email to the local head of your alumni organization. If you explain your challenge briefly, they can help you with introductions via email to targeted alumni, without your ever having to attend an event.

    Reach out to local autism support organizations, including those for parents. The parents might have extensive professional networks and be glad to help in the hopes that someone someday will help their child.

    Ask a resume/interviewing coach or service if they do any pro bono work. They might be interested in helping you. If not, but you excel at IT, accounting or some other useful ability, you could barter services with them.

  30. Narise*

    I had the opposite problem. We bought gifts for three boss’ for boss’ day and one coworker never paid me for it. Not a lot of money but next time I get the money in advance.

    1. Jetta*

      Thank goodness, this type of collective gift giving to bosses is mostly prohibited in Federal workplaces.

  31. Case of the Mondays*

    On number 2, I will never understand employees that would rather see someone else lose a benefit if they can’t have it. It happens all the time. It’s less “I want an extra hour of vacation too” and more “If I don’t get my extra hour of vacation, Jane should lose hers.” I just don’t understand that mentality. I have also worked hourly jobs before so it is not that I am blind to the realities of those positions. I might be bummed I didn’t get a particular perk but I wouldn’t want it taken away from my coworkers just because I couldn’t have it too.

    Frequently, the close early thing is because there just isn’t enough work today on a slow day before a holiday rather than wanting everyone to get an hour or two free pay. Employees just need to realize that sometimes you are on the slow shift and sometimes you are on the busy shift. That’s how it goes.

    Generally the employees that grumble the most are already unhappy in their job though for other reasons. The underlying resentment is what needs to be addressed, not nit picking perfect equality for each employee.

  32. BjBear*

    #1- what an awful and awkward situation to be in. I hope your coworker can produce a receipt to show how much the item cost and you can all get to the bottom of the matter.

    A few years ago we had an awkward experience in our lab. A (not very popular) coworker was getting married, and another coworker, Louisa, sent out several emails requesting contributions for a gift. Since the coworker was not the most pleasant, Louisa was struggling to get donations, so her emails and in person requests got more and more frequent, until someone slightly higher up told her in front of many people to stop being a nuisance. The next day, Louisa announced that the money that had been collected had been stolen from her drawer in the lab. There was a big kerfuffle, and a lot of suspicion thrown around. Louisa made an announcement that since it was her responsibility, she would replace the $50 collected with her own money. Several of us felt bad for her and gave more money (having already donated the first time around), so when our big boss, who had called her a nuisance before, started to praise her generosity in group meetings, someone else spoke up and said we’d contributed again. Louisa was furious and didn’t talk to any of us for several weeks, made worse when we discovered that the getting-married coworker was given a $50 giftcard. Casual conversation revealed that almost $100 had been collected the second time around, and quite a bit more the first time around. When questioned, Louisa said she was tired of being treated like a thief, and would never run any collections again. At her leaving party a few months later, a few of us stayed behind after she’d left, and a coworker drunkenly confessed that she’d caught Louisa putting money from the collection envelope into her purse twice, but Louisa had begged her not to say anything. Needless to say there was a lot of bad feeling all around (plus the bride-to-be was upset that she received so small a gift, making it all the more awkward).

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